By Dr Sara Sreih, Medicolegal Consultant, Medical Protection
The obligations of a doctor extend beyond the sphere of clinical practice.
Section H of the Medical Council of Hong Kong Code of Professional Conduct relates to criminal convictions and disciplinary proceedings: paragraph 27.1 states that a doctor who is convicted of any offence punishable with imprisonment is liable to disciplinary proceedings, even if they are not sentenced to imprisonment, and a disciplinary process would be instigated.
Some offences are viewed as being more serious by the Medical Council, such as offences involving dishonesty, indecent behaviour, violence or those that may affect a doctor’s fitness to practise, such as drug related offences. A doctor who has been convicted with an offence punishable with imprisonment (either within Hong Kong or outside) has a duty to report this to the Medical Council within 28 days from the time of conviction and, according to paragraph 29.1, failure to do so would “in itself” be grounds for disciplinary action.
Case example 1
Dr X, a medical officer working at a public hospital, was involved in an incident while driving, which led to him being charged with an offence of careless driving at the Magistrates’ Court. He pled guilty and was issued with a fine. This came to the attention of the Medical Council of Hong Kong when it was declared on his Annual Practising Certificate.
Dr X was not aware of his obligation to notify the Medical Council of his conviction within 28 days. Dr X received a PIC notice (a letter from the Preliminary Investigation Committee of the Medical Council) informing him that an investigation was being opened into whether he was guilty of misconduct in a professional respect for a) being convicted of the careless driving offence, and b) failing to report this conviction to the Medical Council within 28 days.
Dr X contacted Medical Protection for advice. He was assisted by a Medical Protection case manager, and our legal team in Hong Kong, in drafting a response to the Medical Council. The Medical Council decided not to continue with the investigation any further but did issue a letter of advice to Dr X, that should he fail to observe Section 29.1 of the Code again, the matter would be treated more seriously.
Case example 2
Dr Y, a GP, was also charged with a driving offence. She pleaded guilty and received a fine. She was aware of the obligation to notify the Medical Council of such a conviction within 28 days and approached Medical Protection for support and advice on this notification.
The Medical Protection case manager instructed a legal team to assist Dr Y with drafting a notification to the Medical Council, informing them of the conviction. Six months later, she received a notice from the Medical Council informing her that an investigation would be opened in relation to the offence. Medical Protection assisted Dr Y with drafting submissions for the investigation, and the case was dismissed with no further action.
- It is important to familiarise yourself with your obligations in the Medical Council of Hong Kong’s Code of Professional Conduct.
- Notifying the Medical Council of a conviction will lead to a disciplinary process, but failure to notify them within the stipulated 28 days can mean that this too would be an additional charge to be investigated, and may lead to a worse outcome.
- Seek advice at an early stage. Medical Protection was able to assist Dr Y by providing advice at an early stage, drafting the notification to the Medical Council, as well as assisting with the inevitable investigation that ensued.
Having regulatory cover with Medical Protection entitles members to seek assistance with any issue in front of the regulator, including matters of personal conduct.