Medical body censured Browne but ruled he acted for patient

PROF Ivor Browne has criticised the Medical Council's decision to censure him for confirming to the media that his patient, Ms…

PROF Ivor Browne has criticised the Medical Council's decision to censure him for confirming to the media that his patient, Ms Phyllis Hamilton, had been the lover of Father Michael Cleary and was the father of her son, Ross. He also told The Irish Times that, in spite of the Medical Council's censure, he would do the same thing again in similar circumstances.

The Irish Times has seen transcripts of the private hearing last October of the council's Fitness to Practise Committee, when it considered allegations that Prof Browne, the former chief psychiatrist of the Eastern Health Board, was guilty of professional misconduct.

Because the committee's hearings are normally held in camera (though next week a case against Dr Moira Woods will be held in public), the transcripts provide a rare opportunity to examine its workings.

The transcripts reveal the Medical Council rejected a recommendation by the Fitness to Practise Committee that Prof Browne be struck off as a psychiatrist unless he underwent a course in medical ethics. They also show:


. the committee wanted to call an expert witness who was also one of Prof Browne's accusers

. the committee accepted that Prof Browne had made an honest judgment and acted in the best interests of his patient.

Despite that, the committee ruled that in speaking to the Sunday World and to RTE radio, Prof Browne had gone beyond what was ethically permissible, making, in the words of the ruling "not the minimum possible disclosure", and thereby bringing the profession into disrepute.

Yesterday, Prof Browne told The Irish Times he was "deeply disappointed" by the Medical Council's findings.

"I have no regrets about the decision I took," he said. "I still believe that my ethical duty was to do what I could to protect my patient. If the same circumstances arose again, I would do the same thing.

The Medical Council's censure cannot be appealed, but it is understood Prof Browne's lawyers are considering the possibility of seeking a High Court review of its ruling.

Ms Phyllis Hamilton told The Irish Times she was "very, very distressed" by the censuring of Prof Browne. She said she still believed he had acted properly in disclosing information about her relationship with Father Cleary because of the mental stress that she and her son Ross were experiencing at the time.

"I don't think he could have lived with himself if anything had happened to myself or Ross," she said. "You're told to go by your conscience in holy Catholic Ireland, but when he went by his conscience he was put down for it."

Fintan O'Toole

Fintan O'Toole

Fintan O'Toole, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly opinion column