InsightsInsight - Personal Injury and Industrial Disease - POSTED: April 7 2016
Brachers defend optometrist before the GOC
Mrs LAM was subject to an investigation by the GOC following a complaint from a patient regarding an alleged failure to make an appropriate referral for suspected asymptomatic draft angle glaucoma. The patient had subsequently lost her vision in one eye.
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At the very outset of the GOC investigation, Mrs LAM admitted to us that at the time she had first become aware of the complaint, some 2 months previously, she had been subjected to an exceptionally difficult encounter with the patient.
Following this discussion, in a state of extreme panic and suffering from psychiatric illness, Mrs LAM had reviewed the patient’s electronic records and when doing so she had altered aspects of the records.
Mrs LAM had no recollection of the changes she had made to the records, nor could she explain the rationale behind her actions.
At the outset of the investigation, Mrs LAM faced allegations of misconduct, relating to both her clinical performance and the actions she had taken in changing the records.
Due to the severity of her actions, which could be considered dishonest, it was clear from the outset that there was a real possibility for Mrs LAM that the GOC would erase her from the register.
Mrs LAM’s priority throughout the process was to avoid erasure from the register and to minimise the impact of her actions on her family.
Mrs LAM was encouraged to admit her actions in relation to the record changing to the GOC at an early stage, which she did. This resulted in an Interim Suspension being imposed, such that she was unable to practise for 9 months whilst the matter was investigated.
Following receipt of formal allegations, a robust response was put forward on Mrs LAM’s behalf to all of the allegations. This included submissions that Mrs LAM’s clinical performance was not substandard. The submissions in relation to the clinical care were in large part accepted and the GOC did not pursue the clinical allegations beyond the initial stage.
As expected, the GOC did determine that Mrs LAM should be subject to a Fitness to Practise Hearing in relation to the changes made to the patient’s records.
Prior to the Hearing and following careful legal advice, Mrs LAM admitted all allegations, including that her actions had been dishonest and amounted to misconduct. It was also accepted that her actions meant a finding of Impairment was appropriate. In making these admissions, Mrs LAM showed considerable insight and remorse.
Mitigation evidence was produced on her behalf, including expert evidence, character references and evidence of her previous good character spanning a professional career of over 25 years.
The GOC panel were persuaded that Mrs LAM had acted out of character and the chance of repetition was low. As such, she was suspended for a further period of 1 year in order to protect the public interest.
Mrs LAM, therefore, avoided erasure from the GOC register.
This was an extremely difficult process for Mrs LAM. As a client, she required both expert legal advice and reassurance. It became apparent that Mrs LAM’s actions in changing the records had been totally out of character and as a consequence of these events she had developed health concerns. Expert opinion was therefore obtained on her behalf which confirmed that the initial encounter with the patient had brought about a psychiatric reaction, such that she was not herself at the time the records were changed. The Expert gave evidence at the hearing and was accepted by the panel.
“I am extremely grateful to Kelly for recognising the possibility of psychiatric illness being present at our initial meeting. This allowed me to seek medical help and eventually gain the strength to progress through the whole GOC investigatory process. Kelly has shown great empathy and patience throughout this arduous time. She has been willing to take on board my concerns and instructions throughout as well as explaining the legal issues in detail.”
Mrs LAM, client.
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