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Council ‘reviewing’ procedures for undertakings from doctors

The Medical Council is currently “reviewing” its procedures in relation to undertakings it accepts from doctors, following concerns raised by the High Court President.

In November, Mr Justice Peter Kelly expressed alarm that a mental health service employed a doctor without being aware the doctor had undertaken to the Council’s health committee not to practice medicine due to concerns about his practice.

However, Justice Kelly warned there was no way of employers finding out about this undertaking.

The High Court President directed the Council to inform the court what measures it planned to take to rectify this situation.

A Council spokesperson told the Medical Independent it is reviewing its procedures and processes and is due back before the High Court President in the near future “when an update will be provided”.

Under section 60 of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007, the Council may apply to the High Court for immediate suspension of a doctor’s registration if deemed necessary to protect the public. In some cases, however, it instead accepts undertakings from the doctors.

The Council’s annual report for 2018 stated that 18 matters (involving 16 doctors) were considered under section 60, nine applications were made to the High Court, and seven undertakings accepted.

Under section 67 of the Act the fitness to practise committee can, at any stage from receipt of a complaint, request the doctor to agree to certain undertakings or resolutions, such as remedial action and consenting to medical treatment.

According to a Council guidance document, where there is a necessity to protect the public, the High Court should determine whether to suspend or restrict a practitioner, which does not preclude the doctor from offering undertakings to the court.

“A breach of an undertaking of the High Court is a very serious matter and the High Court can take immediate steps to enforce the order and make any necessary further orders to protect the public,” according to the document.

“On the other hand, a breach of an undertaking to the Council cannot be enforced by the Council.”

The guidance document also underlines that the regulator cannot direct notification of undertakings given to the Council to any relevant bodies or authorities, other than to the other competent authorities in Europe, without the doctor’s agreement.

Separately, a governance meeting between the Medical Council and Department of Health in December heard that the regulator “is aiming to build capacity and competency” in the legal area in order to reduce costs.

“National HR welcomes this approach and suggested a detailed business case from the Council to include how it links in with other areas of the Council and the potential savings should be submitted to the Department for consideration. The Council should be in a position to submit a business case in January,” according to meeting minutes.

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