Dr M was employed by a university to undertake a research project, which was funded by a charity, for two years. After his employment ended, the university’s faculty of medicine agreed that Dr M could continue aspects of his project work, supported by his grant; at the same time Dr M was also beginning specialty training in general medicine.
After a period of around eight months, Dr M’s supervisor at the university raised concerns over a number of purchases made by her department, credited to the research grant. These included an expensive piece of specialist equipment and costly travel and accommodation expenses for two overseas conferences. The supervisor discovered that the purchases had been made without her authorisation, or that of the charity providing the funding. Dr M was questioned about this and claimed to have indeed received the necessary authorisation.
It was later found that Dr M had made numerous fraudulent attempts to demonstrate this authorisation, including retrospectively amending travel booking details and forging approval letters.
Dr M was eventually reported to the Medical Council, where a panel hearing assessed his fitness to practise. It was found that Dr M’s fitness to practise was severely impaired by his lack of honesty, integrity and probity – the basic attributes of being a good doctor. His attempts at deception and manipulation of colleagues exacerbated his original dishonest acts.
Any doubt surrounding the probity of a doctor can be extremely damaging to the trust invested in the profession by patients
Dr M admitted to the charges but revealed that he had been under severe stress due to the recent death of his sister; further psychiatric examination led to Dr M being diagnosed with a major depressive disorder, which the Medical Council accepted as having contributed to his original actions.
The panel concluded that despite his mental health issues, Dr M’s conduct was unacceptable for a doctor and and brought the profession into disrepute, undermining public confidence in the profession. A three-year set of conditions was imposed on Dr M’s practice, including notifying the Medical Council of any post he accepted which required Medical Council registration; agreeing to the appointment of a workplace reporter, as approved by the Medical Council; and informing the Medical Council of any further formal disciplinary proceedings. Dr M was also placed under the supervision of a medical supervisor, nominated by the Medical Council.
Honesty and integrity are central to the role of a doctor, principally because of the extent to which the doctor–patient relationship depends on trust. Doctors have a responsibility to the reputation of the profession to be trustworthy in all aspects of their work, including signing forms, reports and other documents, and in any financial arrangements with patients and employers, insurers and other organisations or individuals. Any doubt surrounding the probity of a doctor can be extremely damaging to the trust invested in the profession by patients.
Doctors are notoriously bad at looking after their own health. Stress and anxiety can affect a doctor’s ability to practise safely, and an impaired practitioner is a significant medicolegal risk. There are usually local support networks for doctors affected by mental health issues, and any concerns about your own health should be raised with senior colleagues. MPS also has a worldwide counselling service available to members.