Protecting the public – a case study
High Court – The Authority v HCPC & Ajeneye
This case study gives an overview of an Appeal from the very beginning all the way through to its conclusion. It provides insight into why we decide to appeal final fitness to practise cases and has, at its heart, our main aim of protecting the public as well as maintaining their confidence in health and care professionals and their regulators.
What happened – at a glance
- In November 2015 the Authority decided to refer the decision of the HCPC in the case of Mr Ajeneye to the High Court
- As a biomedical scientist Mr Ajeneye is required to be registered with the HCPC
- Mr Ajeneye gave two false references for people he had in fact never worked with
- Both took up jobs as biomedical scientists and, due to a lack of competence, one of them caused temporary harm
- The HCPC fitness to practise panel decided to impose a non-restrictive, non-reviewable sanction of a caution for five years
- The Authority decided that the HCPC’s decision to impose a sanction was ‘unduly lenient’ (the legal test that we applied to cases from before 31 December 2015) and decided to appeal to the High Court
- The High Court appeal was heard on 26 April 2016 and the reserved judgment was released on 27 May 2016
- The High Court concluded that the sanction imposed was unduly lenient
- The damage caused to the public interest is evident in the harm caused to one patient and the manifest risk to which others were exposed
- The judgment is available to read.
Mr Ajeneye was practising as a biomedical scientist at an NHS trust when he provided false references for two acquaintances who were both subsequently employed as biomedical scientists. In his references Mr Ajeneye stated that he had worked alongside both of them when he had, in fact, never worked with either of them. One of them had been employed as a cleaner at another NHS trust and he did not meet the other one until after the period covered by the reference.
The lack of competence of one of them caused her to give non-matched blood to a patient resulting in temporary harm. Concerns around the competence of both of these acquaintances resulted in investigations into their job applications, including the references provided by Mr Ajeneye. When he was asked about the references, Mr Ajeneye initially stuck to the story that the references were accurate, as well as claiming that an employment agency had misrepresented what he had said.
What the HCPC panel decided
The hearing before the HCPC dealt with Mr Ajeneye and three other biomedical scientists. This included the two biomedical scientists for whom Mr Ajeneye had provided references. Mr Ajeneye admitted providing inaccurate references but denied dishonesty. None of the other three biomedical scientists attended the hearing and were struck off the HCPC’s register. Though the panel found Mr Ajeneye’s actions were dishonest and that his fitness to practise was impaired by reason of his misconduct (added to the fact that Mr Ajeneye exhibited no real insight into his behaviour), the panel imposed a caution which was a non-restrictive, non-reviewable sanction for five years.
Why the Authority decided to appeal
The Authority looked at the facts of the case and concluded that the caution was unduly lenient, especially weighed against the HCPC panel’s acknowledgement that there was no guarantee that Mr Ajeneye would not repeat this type of behaviour. The finer points of our appeal focused on the fact that the HCPC panel had:
- made an error when considering Mr Ajeneye’s insight
- not considered the full context of Mr Ajeneye’s dishonesty
- not applied the HCPC’s guidance on sanctions without giving any reason why
- not imposed a sanction that reflected the seriousness of the dishonesty
- not given enough weight to the wider public interest.
The HCPC opposed the Authority’s appeal but agreed that the panel had not given sufficient reasons for its decision. Mr Ajeneye opposed the appeal on all points.
What the Court decided
The Court’s ruling stated that the sanction imposed was unduly lenient, because of Mr Ajeneye’s two acts of dishonesty and his additional attempt to place blame elsewhere during the hearing. There had already been one incidence of harm to a patient and the risk to others was evident. The fact that two incompetent and dishonest individuals were employed as health professionals with the assistance and connivance of another is obvious and could further damage the profession’s and the regulator’s reputation in the eyes of the public. The caution imposed did not adequately reflect the level of risk caused by the dishonesty. You can read the judgment.
What happened next
The Authority, HCPC and Mr Ajeneye agreed that he should be suspended from practising for three months instead of the five-year caution originally imposed. Following on from that, at the recent HCPC review hearing, a further suspension for three months was imposed to give Mr Ajeneye an opportunity to reflect further on his misconduct and demonstrate a greater degree of insight.
You can find out more about our work around the regulators’ final fitness to practise decisions from our website.
You can also find can also find on our website an infographic about Fitness to Practise decisions/trends, published as part of our 2015/16 annual report.
In 2015/16 Regulators made 3,756 FtP panel decisions, the Authority held 44 case meetings and out of these 44, we referred 14 cases to court.