Following an appeal to the High Court by the General Medical Council (GMC), which we joined as an interested party, the Court has approved the consent orders agreed by all parties. The consent orders provide that warnings should be placed on the medical register for two years.
The doctors involved were members of a WhatsApp group and, over three years, exchanged numerous messages that were offensive, racist, discriminatory, and disrespectful towards women, disabled people and people who are LGBTQ. As well as written messages, one doctor shared a category A pornographic image and others shared extreme pornographic images.
The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) found that the messages amounted to misconduct but that the doctors were not impaired because they had since shown considerable insight and remorse and were unlikely to repeat the conduct. The MPTS took no action against the doctors.
The GMC rightly appealed the decision because the MPTS had failed to properly consider its duty to declare and uphold professional standards and maintain public confidence in the profession.
We had specific concerns about the way the case was prosecuted and the decision of the panel, but ultimately agreed that the appeals brought by us and the GMC could be settled by consent and with the publication of the warnings. Because of the terms on which the case was compromised by the parties, the issues we raised have not been determined by a Court. Even though the arguments we made were not accepted by the other parties, we remain of the view that they were valid and it was right for us to take the approach we did.
It is important to note that there was no finding by the panel that the messages exchanged by this group of doctors discriminated against their patients. We do however want to highlight the valuable work of the NHS Race and Health Observatory in this space. It seems plain to us that health inequalities that many people face arise because of discrimination. It is incumbent on health and social care professionals, employers and regulators as well as the Authority to take meaningful action to address this issue so that those seeking healthcare can do so with confidence.
We are glad that agreement has been reached between the parties that the registrants should receive public warnings placed on their medical register accurately reflecting their conduct and demonstrating to the public and the profession that the conduct was unacceptable and required a sanction.
You can read the consent orders here.
Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care
Notes to the Editor
- The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care oversees 10 statutory bodies that regulate health and social care professionals in the UK.
- We assess their performance and report to Parliament. We also conduct audits and investigations and can appeal fitness to practise cases to the courts if we consider that sanctions are insufficient to protect the public and it is in the public interest.
- We also set standards for organisations holding voluntary registers for health and social care occupations and accredit those that meet them.
- We share good practice and knowledge, conduct research and introduce new ideas to our sector. We monitor policy developments in the UK and internationally and provide advice on issues relating to professional standards in health and social care.
- We do this to promote the health, safety and wellbeing of users of health and social care services and the public. We are an independent body, accountable to the UK Parliament.
- Our values are – integrity, transparency, respect, fairness and teamwork – and we strive to ensure that they are at the core of our work.
- More information about our work and the approach we take is available at www.professionalstandards.org.uk