The recent high profile case of an Optometrist has again illustrated the significance of upholding public trust and confidence in the healthcare profession.
Brief overview of the case
In February 2012, Honey Rose undertook examinations of both Patient A and Patient B, who were siblings. She recorded that there were no issues of concern. Both patients also had retinal images taken by an optical consultant, prior to the examination by Ms Rose. Five months later, Patient A became acutely unwell and passed away. A post-mortem examination revealed the cause of death being an eye condition where excessive fluid builds up on the brain. Patient A had been asymptomatic which was unusual for this condition, however, it was found that the retinal images taken of Patient A by Ms Rose clearly showed condition requiring urgent referral to hospital.
The criminal case was heard in July 2016, with Ms Rose being convicted of gross negligence manslaughter and later sentenced to a term of two years imprisonment, suspended for two years.
On appeal however, the Court of Appeal overturned the initial conviction thereby clearing Ms Rose of gross negligence manslaughter.
General Optical Council (GOC)
Interestingly though and notwithstanding the Court of Appeal decision to overturn the criminal conviction, the General Optical Council (GOC) suspended Mr Rose nonetheless.
What is significant about the GOC’s decision is that it concluded that Ms Rose had done all that could reasonably be asked of her to remediate the specific clinical failings and that the Committee concluded that they were unable to identify any basis upon which Ms Rose was currently unfit for practise from a personal perspective.
However, when the GOC committee gave consideration to the wider public interest test, it came to the conclusion that Ms Rose’s behaviour brought the profession into disrepute and breached the fundamental tenet that the care of patients should be a registered practitioners first concern.
Therefore, whilst her fitness to practise was found to not be impaired “currently” relating to her clinical practice, the wider public interest test could not be overcome and tipped the balance in favour of a finding of impairment.
It is worth noting that, during criminal proceedings, the Court of Appeal commented that it was not for the criminal courts to deal with the serious breach of duty, which is a matter for the regulator.
This case is important for a number of reasons, principally because it demonstrates the importance healthcare regulators attach to public confidence on the profession.
What this case also reaffirms is the clear separation between criminal proceedings and regulatory action. It is possible for a regulatory body to take action on a finding of impairment even in light of the fact that a criminal court has found no offences committed.
Kings View Chambers
Specialist healthcare and medical regulation defence barristers dealing with all fitness to practise matters before:
- General Medical Council
- General Pharmaceutical Council
- General Dental Council
- Nursing & Midwifery Council
- Health and Care Professions Council
- Social Work England
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