Professionals and Poor Service Levels, Being Held to Account

Failing to give an acceptable level of care or service concerns situations where professionals have failed to make the interests of their patients or clients their main concern and the care or service given falls below what is expected of a professional

These situations can arise when the professioanal was aware that something they were about to do could put the safety and wellbeing of patients at risk, that it was unreasonable to take the risk but nonetheless, chose to take the risk. This is often called reckless behaviour. On other occasions it might be a serious mistake with profound consequences. However, not all one off errors lead to regulatory proceedings. A genuine clinical error when there was no intention to cause harm, but harm did occur. If a practitioner is open and honest about what went wrong and there is low risk of repetition, they will not be punished.

It is a breach of the fundamental duty professionals to fail to provide an appropriate level of service. Each regulator will have a code of conduct by which a professional should operate.

By way of example, one regulator states:

You must:

…put the interests of people using or needing nursing or midwifery services first.

…Act in the best interests of people at all times.

There are some situations where the conduct was so serious and persistent that no matter the remedial actions that have been taken, the damage done to the public interest is so serious that a professional must be removed from the register or otherwise disciplined with significant sanctions. 

In the case of Cheatle v General Medical Council [2009] EWHC 645 (Admin), para 22 it was held that:

‘[t]he doctor’s misconduct at a particular time may be so egregious that, looking forward, a panel is persuaded that the doctor is simply not fit to practise medicine without restrictions, or maybe at all.  On the other hand, the doctor’s misconduct may be such that, seen within the context of an otherwise unblemished record, a Fitness to Practise Panel could conclude that, looking forward, his or her fitness to practise is not impaired, despite the misconduct.’

The charges concerned Mr Cheatle’s failures when performing surgery on one of his patients, who sadly died as a result. It was found that Mr Cheatle’s actions were ‘unacceptable, inappropriate and not in the best interests of his patient.’ He was found to be impaired and a 10 months order of suspension was imposed. However, on appeal, the finding of impairment was overturned. Not all patient deaths warrant strike off. Likewise, not all poor levels of service by a professional will lead to removal from the register, even where serious harm has occurred.

If you are a professional facing allegations of poor service delivery or poor levels of care, contact Barristers.London without obligation and in strict confidence to discuss our legal advice and representation services. Our fees are competitve.

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