E-Regulator: Belal v General Medical Council [2011] EWHC 2859 (Admin)

2 December 2011

CASE COMMENTARY

 Interpretation of Conditions

Dr Belal was a General Practitioner.  Following a Performance Assessment by the GMC which raised concerns as to his professional performance, in 2007 he was made subject to various interim conditions under s.41A of the Medical Act 1983.

Under Condition 9, Dr Belal was obliged to:

“inform the following parties that your registration is subject to…conditions…:

  • Any organisation or person employing or contracting with you* to undertake medical work…”

 *writer’s emphasis

Further to the imposition of the conditions, Dr Belal left the UK in February 2008 and attempted to gain employment overseas, by sending his curriculum vitae to International Medical Recruitment, a recruitment agency. The conditions were reviewed several times and he was suspended by the Interim Orders Panel in January 2009.  The suspension continued up until the Fitness to Practise hearing before the GMC, which was held in May 2009.

At the hearing, the Panel heard evidence that Dr Belal had breached certain of the conditions imposed by the Interim Orders Panel. The breaches included a failure to inform the GMC that he had applied for medical employment outside the UK.  It was also alleged that Dr Belal had failed to inform the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi that his UK registration had been suspended, on an application form for a licence to practise in the United Arab Emirates.

A number of the allegations were found proved and the Panel found that the breach of the conditions amounted to misconduct.   Dr Belal’s fitness to practise was impaired by reason both of his misconduct and his deficient professional performance and he was struck off the register.

The appeal concerned, inter alia, the Panel’s finding that Dr Belal had not informed a Dr Upsdell, General Practitioner in New Zealand, that his registration was subject to conditions when he accepted her job offer in 2008.  This, the Panel had found, was in breach of Condition 9 above. 

On appeal, it was argued on behalf of Dr Belal that he had discharged his obligation under Condition 9, because despite not informing Dr Upsdell, he had informed the recruitment agency that he was subject to conditions.  It was stated that the Panel was wrong to hold there had been a breach, because at no time was Dr Belal actually employed by Dr Upsdell’s practice, nor had Dr Upsdell contracted with him. 

Mr Justice Lloyd Jones found that there had been no binding contract between Dr Belal and Dr Upsdell.  Despite telephone conversations between the two at the time of the job offer, in which remuneration, working hours and references had been discussed, the contract had never been sent to Dr Belal.  The offer was no more than provisional and there was consequently no breach of Condition 9.  The Panel’s finding was set aside.

Notwithstanding, the Panel was entitled to find Dr Belal’s fitness to practise impaired and to strike him off the register.  His failure to tell the GMC that he had applied for medical employment outside the country was indeed misleading and dishonest, as was his failure to inform the Health Authority of Abu Dhabi that he had been suspended (which, although not a breach of a condition, was a breach of the general duty of good faith owed by all members of the profession).  The Panel’s decision on impairment had been based on the “cumulative effect of its findings” and would have been the same even if it had found that Dr Belal had not breached Condition 9. 

This case highlights the need for medical practitioners to adhere strictly to conditions which are imposed upon them by their regulatory body. It also serves as a reminder to Fitness to Practise Panels that there is a need for careful and considered drafting of conditions.

Sophie Lister, Solicitor

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