Consultant guilty of poor professional performance after woman (31) died


A DROGHEDA consultant who failed to take adequate steps to implement a treatment plan for a woman who later died, has been found guilty of poor professional performance at a Medical Council fitness-to-practise inquiry.

Consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Etop Samson Akpan from Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda had faced 12 allegations of professional misconduct and or poor professional performance, following the death of 31-year-old Sharon McEneaney.

Ms McEneaney, a creche manager from Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, had a cancerous tumour in her abdomen and died in April 2009 after delays in her treatment at the Drogheda hospital.

She first attended the hospital’s emergency department in October 2007, with abdominal pain.

On November 7th, after a third visit, she was admitted to the hospital. She had a scan that showed up a mass and her case was reviewed by Dr Akpan. He suggested she should be discharged and then readmitted for explorative surgery within two weeks.

Ms McEneaney wasn’t readmitted until December 19th. When Dr Akpan operated on her, he found the large mass and sought advice from a specialist from the surgical team, who said a biopsy should not be carried out then due to the risk of bleeding. He recommended a CT scan and a “radiologically-guided” biopsy.

A CT scan was carried out, but not until January 24th, 2008, and Ms McEneaney returned to Dr Akpan on February 13th.

Dr Akpan said he left a note on her chart to refer her for the biopsy, but it did not take place. Instead, on April 3rd, she was given another ultrasound. She was only given a biopsy after the intervention of former TD Dr Rory O’Hanlon in late June 2008. She was treated for cancer in July, but died the following year.

After three hours of deliberation yesterday, committee chairman Danny O’Hare said Dr Akpan should have told Ms McEneaney in person she had cancer instead of giving her the news over the telephone. It amounted to poor professional performance and was “a significant failure” to meet the standards of performance expected of a consultant.

The doctor’s failure to take adequate steps to implement the plan recorded in Ms McEneaney’s medical records also amounted to poor professional performance. It failed to reach the standards of competence reasonably expected of a consultant, Mr O’Hare said.

Five of the allegations against Dr Akpan, who qualified in Nigeria in 1985, were proven as to fact, but did not amount to professional misconduct, the committee found, and the remainder were not proven.

The committee said it would make its recommendations in relation to sanction to the full Medical Council. Sanctions could include admonishment, supervision or referral for further education.

Summing up the case earlier, counsel for Dr Akpan, Eileen Barrington SC, said the system had let Ms McEneaney down. “It can’t be said that because there is a systems failure somebody must be held accountable and must be found guilty of professional misconduct,” Ms Barrington said.

Speaking afterwards, Sinéad Keavey of William Fry Solicitors, on behalf of Dr Akpan, said the doctor was pleased to be cleared of professional misconduct. He expressed his sincere regret and sympathies to Ms McEneaney’s family, she said.

The family, some of whom were in tears when the committee announced it’s decision, made no comment immediately afterwards. But in a statement issued on their behalf through Patient Focus last night they welcome the findings of the fitness to practise committee.

“We feel that the decision of the committee vindicates our decision to make the complaint. The complaint was made following the conclusion of a review conducted by the HSE into the care of our beloved Sharon. We felt it necessary to refer the matter to the Medical Council as the HSE had not done so,” they said. “We hope that the lessons from this case will be learned by the hospital and all involved in the health services and that no family will again have to go through a similar experience.”