The President of the High Court has warned it may be open to the Medical Council to take legal action to end the HSE’s “scandalous”, “dangerous” and continuing practice of permitting non-specialist doctors to be appointed as consultants in hospitals and mental health services.
Mr Justice Peter Kelly had raised several issues with the council concerning the HSE’s practice when he last month confirmed its recommendation to cancel the registration of Arjan Kumar Bhatia, a radiologist with an the address at Drumcliffe, Sligo, and at Northamptonshire, England, recruited by an agency to work as locum consultant radiologist at Cavan General Hospital.
Dr Bhatia worked at the Cavan hospital between June and September 2014. After the hospital raised concerns, the council’s fitness-to-practise committee found some 80 allegations involving 43 patients amounted cumulatively to poor professional performance, including failures concerning CT scanning, to see liver abscess, to recognise acute stroke, understating of cancer scans, and missed fractures.Dr Bhatia previously worked over a number of years in other hospitals in Ireland despite failing the examinations for the position of consultant radiologist, the judge noted.
He reserved judgment on what directions he might issue to the council after receiving detailed material from it concerning the disputed HSE practice.“Jeopardised”
Giving that judgment yesterday, Tuesday, the judge said the evidence was “very disquieting” and showed the lives, health and welfare of patients were being “jeopardised” by the HSE’s approach of permitting doctors such as Dr Bhatia be appointed as temporary and permanent consultants in a wide variety of specialities despite not meeting the HSE’s requirement, set in 2008, to be registered on the council’s specialist register.
“The HSE appears to be a law unto itself in this regard,” the judge said.
It “cannot be right” that a difficulty in recruiting doctors at consultant level is addressed even temporarily, by appointing persons inadequately qualified for such posts, he said.
That such an approach has been adopted by the HSE, in breach of its own requirements for the last 10 years, “is scandalous”.The court heard 127 out of a total of almost 3,000 consultants employed by the HSE, are not registered on the Council's specialist registrar.
Although the HSE said this amounted to 4.3% of the consultants' workforce, the judge said this was no comfort to patients who may be dealt with by non specialists.
He said the practice was affecting positions in 20 acute hospitals in a wide range of specialties.
While not criticising the Medical Council, the judge believed, even without legislative change, it was not “entirely powerless” and it may be open to it to bring legal proceedings aimed at ending “this dangerous practice”.