Psychiatrist fails to stop inquiry over alleged relationship with patient

Consultant psychiatrist asked High Court to halt a Medical Council Fitness to Practise inquiry

It was claimed that on realising he had made errors in judgment in relation to the patient the psychiatrist discontinued the relationship. Photograph: David Sleator

It was claimed that on realising he had made errors in judgment in relation to the patient the psychiatrist discontinued the relationship. Photograph: David Sleator

 

A psychiatrist has failed to stop an inquiry into allegations over an alleged inappropriate relationship with a patient while she was being treated by him between 2006 and 2012.

The consultant psychiatrist, who cannot be identified, asked the High Court to halt a Medical Council Fitness to Practise Committee (FtPC) inquiry into allegations of misconduct and poor professional performance.

He said the inquiry should only have considered one serious failing on his part which was in relation to a meeting he had with the woman in a restaurant. The inquiry went considerably beyond what the original complaint was, he said.

It was claimed that on realising he had made errors in judgment in relation to the patient he discontinued the relationship. However, it was alleged, that this led to entirely foreseeable distress on her part leading to self-harm, hospital admission and further aggravation of her already deep mistrust of psychiatric professionals.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan dismissed the doctor’s challenge to the inquiry.

He said the matter was referred by a Medical Council professional practices committee to the Fitness to Practise Committee for an inquiry on the basis of an opinion of another consultant psychiatrist.

The judge said that other psychiatrist found, among other things, the therapeutic techniques used in treating the patient, over time, combined to erode the appropriate professional boundaries between them and were “highly likely to cause her to believe that she was entering into a relationship which went beyond the doctor-patient relationship”.

Outside workplace

The other psychiatrist said agreeing to meet her outside the workplace in a restaurant was a breach of professional standards.

Mr Justice Meenan said as a result of the other psychiatrist’s report, the matter was referred to the Fitness to Practise Committee on grounds of professional misconduct and poor professional performance.

Before the matter got to the Fitness to Practise Committee however, the complaint was also sent to the chief executive of the Medical Council who obtained another the professional opinion from another consultant psychiatrist in 2017. That psychiatrist took the view there was both professional misconduct and poor professional performance.

The Medical Council served notice of an inquiry on grounds including that that he failed to maintain adequate professional boundaries with a patient who was suffering from post traumatic stress and/or borderline personality disorder and/or emotionally unstable personality disorder.

The psychiatrist brought High Court judicial review proceedings claiming, among other things, that the only allegation which could have been sent to the inquiry related to the restaurant meeting.

The Medical Council Fitness to Practise Committee opposed the doctor’s application.

Mr Justice Meenan was satisfied the opinion of the professional practices committee that there was, on its face, a case against him had met the required test in relation to its decision to refer the allegations to the Fitness to Practise Committee .

This “triple test”, as set down in previous case law, required that the prima facie case be genuine, reasonable and factually sustainable and had been met, he said.