GMC Win Appeal in Fitness to Practise Panel Hearing, but has to pay their own costs due to ‘inadequate reasons’ given by the panel.

Our Charlotte Ellis comments on the recent findings of the High Court in General Medical Council v Sledzik [2019] EWCH 189.

In this GMC Appeal the High Court highlighted the need for Tribunal’s to ensure that they give full reasons when giving their determinations. If not, they’ll be paying costs!

The GMC had brought a case against Dr Sledzik, an ophthalmologist, who at the relevant time, was working as a locum optometrist. Allegations against him related to failures in examinations to a large number of patients that he had treated.

At his original MPTS Fitness to Practise Panel hearing, counsel for the GMC made submissions to the Tribunal that Dr Sledzik’s name ought to be erased from the medical register following concerns that had been investigated and either admitted or found proved relating to his performance and his conduct.

Despite finding that he lacked insight into the concerns raised and recognising the need to ensure that Dr Sledzik’s future practice would be supervised, the Tribunal found that Dr Sledzik’s name should not to be removed from the medical register but did impose conditions on his registration.

Can the GMC Appeal?

The short answer is yes, the General Medical Council does have the power to appeal the determinations of tribunals and did in relation to the finding against Dr Dr Sledzik’s contending that the Tribunal had been too lenient and that his name should be erased from the medical register.

Can Doctors Appeal a MPTS Fitness to Practise Panel conclusion?

Again the answer is yes, there is a statutory right of appeal for all doctors once a decision has been made by the panel and there is a 28 day window from the date on which the decision of sanction was made to lodge any appeal.

Why is it important for Tribunals to give detailed reasons in determinations?

This case highlights the need for a tribunal to give detailed reasons in their determination, because although she technically allowed the appeal, Mrs Justice Lang determined that both parties should pay their own costs. Ordinarily if a GMC appeal was successful, the Doctor in question would usually be ordered to pay the costs of the GMC. Likewise if a doctor appeals against an MPTS Fitness to Practise decision and wins, his or her legal costs would usually be paid by the Respondent.

In this case, the GMC brought the appeal and technically won it as Mrs Justice Lang agreed that the MPTS had not provided sufficient reasons in their determination on sanction and remitted the matter back so that the decision on sanction could be re-considered by the same Tribunal, stating;

“…flaws which I have identified in the Tribunal’s determination may be a consequence of a defective approach to the case by the Tribunal, or they may merely be a result of poor drafting and inadequate reasons. Without clarification from the Tribunal, I am not able to discern the cause…..In the circumstances, I consider that the appropriate course is to allow the appeal on the basis of the flaws in the determination, and remit the case to the same Tribunal for them to re-determine sanction, in the light of my judgment. The findings on impairment cannot be re-opened as they were not the subject of an appeal. The Tribunal should provide full reasons for their findings and conclusions on sanction.”

Despite the fact that the GMC won the appeal, in relation to costs she ruled:

“the GMC was only successful in establishing that there were flaws in the determination. The GMC failed to persuade the Court that the sanction of conditional registration was not sufficient to protect the public… In those circumstances, I consider that the just outcome is that the parties should bear their own costs.”

Given the comments Mrs Justice Lang made in her judgement in relation to the decision of the Tribunal to impose conditions on Dr Sledzik’s registration and not to suspend his registration or erase his name from the medical register, we consider that it would be unlikely that the MPTS Fitness to Practise Panel would come to a different determination on sanction to that made previously. We think it is much more likely that the Tribunal, upon a re-consideration of this case, will determine that their original decision to impose conditions on Dr Sledzik’s registration was correct but this time should ensure that comprehensive reasons for this decision are given in their determination. The full judgement of General Medical Council v Sledzik [2019] EWCH 189 can be found here

Charlotte Ellis

Burton Copeland

Charlotte Ellis is one of the team of specialist regulatory lawyers who defend doctors, healthcare professionals and other regulated professionals such as teachers, architects and accountants .

To read more about Charlotte and the work she does, see Charlotte’s profile.

If you are a doctor and want further information read our frequently asked questions for doctors facing investigation by the GMC or if you are another regulated professional requiring assistance, please contact the team and see how we can help.