Doctor accused of misconduct after allegedly leaving post

Dr Ogechi Chuku claims she could not find colleague to inform she felt unwell

A junior doctor could not find a doctor or nurse during a 15-minute search of a Dublin hospital's emergency department, to tell them she was too ill to keep working, a Medical Council fitness to practise hearing has heard.

Dr Ogechi Chuku faces three allegations of professional misconduct after she allegedly left her post at St James's Hospital, at 11 am on Sunday, November 23rd, 2014, without telling anyone.

She told the committee she had been feeling so ill she thought she might pass out, had searched for someone to tell but could not see anyone.

She said she wrote “doctor unwell” on her patient’s notes and made it back to her apartment. She said she thought she had left the notes at the nurses’ station but they were subsequently found on a security man’s chair.

The committee heard, during cross examination by Donogh Hardiman for the Medical Council, that Dr Chuku did not call Dr Una Kennedy, emergency medicine consulate at the hospital, until December 2nd – nine days later. Dr Kennedy had tried calling her twice.

Giving evidence via Skype from the United States, Dr Chuku, said she had lain in her bed for two days, her phone had been on silent and she did not use voice mail. She did email Dr Kennedy on 25th November, telling her she could not be reached by phone and asking her to sign her time-sheet so she could be paid.

She said she had not been able to buy phone credit until December 2nd as she had difficulty with her ATM card and did not have any money. She also said she did not think her health problems would be of interest to anyone in the hospital.

“I had to look after myself. I couldn’t see how that was going to change. It was something I had grown accustomed to,” she said.

Mr Hardiman put it to her that an explanation for leaving the hospital before the end of her shift was of interest to her colleagues.

“The facts and circumstances in which you left that hospital before your shift was over, without doing a proper handover, without informing any of your colleagues, that was crucial. It was of immense interest to Dr Kennedy. She called you twice. Would you accept now that understanding that issue regarding your health, the circumstances in which you left the hospital, [TO SAY]that was of no interest to anybody, that that is incorrect?”

Dr Chuku answered: “I don’t know what to say. I don’t have an answer...I’m in state where I don’t think can answer these questions right now.”

The committee considered taking a break but Dr Chuku then indicated she could continue.

Mr Hardiman put it to her that she did not in fact feel she had any obligation to tell Dr Kennedy or her colleagues she was unwell, or to explain after what had happened.

“Your contention that you felt you had done enough to inform your colleagues by leaving that note...that irresistibly will lead this committee to a conclusion of professional misconduct,” he suggested.

Dr Chuku did not respond to this.

The hearing was adjourned until July 27th when it will hear closing submissions.

Dr Chuku's solicitor, Collins Adele, attended the hearing via Skype from Nigeria.