Medical chiefs have said they cannot automatically ban convicted doctors because it may breach their human rights.
Campaigners reacted angrily to the disclosures on Sunday night. Roger Goss, the co-director of Patient Concern, said: “Human rights should not allow doctors to get away with still practising after being convicted of these crimes. There are shocking convictions for violence and doctors having images of children. The fact they have not been struck off is an outrage.”
The General Medical Council (GMC) released the number of criminal records held by practising doctors in response to a Freedom of Information request. It showed 761 doctors were practising in October this year, despite accumulating 856 convictions between them.
They included one doctor who took indecent photographs of a child, two with convictions for possessing child pornography, two for trafficking drugs and three for grievous bodily harm. There were 31 offences of assault, three of possessing dangerous weapons, seven for soliciting prostitutes, a dozen for domestic violence, and two of child cruelty or neglect
Of the convictions, 184 were for dangerous driving, 330 for drink-driving and four for driving under the influence of drugs. Other convictions included perjury, forgery, fraud, making threats to kill and violent disorder, including rioting.
By law, doctors have to go before a GMC “fitness to practise” hearing after receiving a serious conviction. But in many cases, the watchdog has allowed them to carry on practising while it issues a warning or temporary suspension.
The convictions of more than 200 doctors have not been made public as hearings were held in secret, because they related to health issues such as depression and the watchdog is bound by law to “respect the doctor’s confidentiality”, a spokesman said. He said any restrictions, such as not being allowed to work with under 18s, appear on the online register.
The GMC is looking for a way automatically to ban doctors guilty of serious crimes, including sex offences, without a hearing. Currently, a hearing must be held to comply with human rights laws. Katherine Murphy, the chief executive of the Patients Association, said: “Patients need to be able to put their trust in the doctor treating them. Discovering they have a conviction for making child porn images, drug trafficking or for domestic violence will only erode that trust.”
Grahame Morris MP, a member of the health select committee, said he was “shocked” and could “not envisage any circumstances whereby an individual with convictions for sex offences or violence is a fit and proper person to practice medicine”. However, he added: “Not every conviction would automatically mean a person is unfit to practise. This is an issue that the health select committee will want to pursue with the GMC.”
Niall Dickson, the chief executive of the GMC, said: “Any doctor who receives a custodial sentence is automatically referred to the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service. Most doctors with criminal convictions are removed from the medical register or suspended for a time and most can only return to work under strict conditions. For serious convictions the GMC will almost always call for the doctor to be removed from the register
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It's yet another example of the 'lessons have been learned' platitudes which follow any national scandal involving the health services. The GMC's procedures and practises were meant to have undergone a thorough overhaul after Shipman but, given this was carried out in-house with no input from any objective/independent body, it's unsurprising nothing's changed.
Shipman, of course, is a case in point as he was not disciplined by the GMC after being convicted of obtaining prescription drugs by deception. It may be a moot point but, if he'd had a shot fired across his bows at that time, he might not have gone on to become a mass murderer or, at the very least, might not have killed so many if he'd been forced out of action for a few years.
As it is, if he'd been released after serviing his 'life sentence', he'd be back on the register in a matter of months - if anyone should think this is an exaggeration, check out John Bodkin Adams and reflect on the fact that nothing has changed since he was, effectively, licensed to kill again by the GMC.
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