The E-Regulator: Ujam v General Medical Council [2012] EWHC 580 (Admin)

13 March 2012

This case was an appeal by Dr Ujam against the direction of a Fitness to Practise Panel (‘the Panel’) that he be suspended from the Register for 6 months, after a finding that his fitness to practise was impaired.

Dr Ujam admitted and the Panel found proved a number of charges. Charges 1 and 2 related to the fact that between August 2007 and November 2008, whilst on a GP training programme at the Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Ujam had failed to disclose to the General Medical Council (GMC) a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) certificate that he had received in February 2007 which contained details of an allegation of sexual assault that had been made against him in 2003. It was further alleged that this was misleading.

Charge 3 related to the period between August to October 2007 whilst Dr Ujam was working at the Moss Valley Medical Practice. It was said that he made numerous private telephone calls from the practice phone to various Nigerian telephone numbers and that on 14 November 2007, when he had attended a meeting with his supervisor to discuss these calls, he had become confrontational and shouted at her. It was further alleged that this behaviour was intimidating.

Charges 4, 6 and 7 related to Dr Ujam’s conduct towards two female doctors who also worked at the Chesterfield Royal Hospital, which Mr Justice Eady stated was fairly summarised as ‘sexual harassment’. Amongst other behaviour it was said that he made inappropriate comments, discussed personal matters and sent personal text messages.  Charge 8 alleged that Dr Ujam had displayed similar behaviour to a nurse, requesting her phone number and winking at her. It was alleged that his actions in relation to the female colleagues were both inappropriate and sexually motivated.

A number of arguments were advanced on behalf of Dr Ujam. It was clear that where there were many issues of fact in dispute the Panel had preferred the evidence of the various complainants over that of Dr Ujam. It was, however, contended on behalf of Dr Ujam that the passage relating to the credibility of the complainants within the determination was too general; it was submitted that even if Dr Ujam was the less impressive witness, it did not necessarily follow that the transgressions meant that his fitness to practice was impaired. Essentially, it was argued that the Panel, having come to a general conclusion as to the reliability of the witnesses, improperly and mechanistically used this as a basis for going on to make further adverse findings on impairment.

It was further argued that the ‘telephone incident’ was simply a misunderstanding.

The primary complaint was that too much significance was put on what Dr Ujam characterised as relatively minor transgressions which did not amount to serious misconduct, such to impair his fitness to practice; the particulars in relation to the female colleagues had been blown out of proportion. 

The learned Judge found that there was ‘no convincing evidence that the Panel did allow its view on credibility (or the Appellant’s accuracy as a historian) to prejudice the separate task of judging impairment of fitness to practise’. He went on to note that there is an element of overlap, specifically when considering insight or lack thereof.  He stated that ‘if the panel was of the view that he presented himself as being somewhat insensitive to the effect of his behaviour on other people, it might take the view, legitimately, that such an attitude would be relevant also to the issues of impairment and if relevant, sanctions’. 

The learned Judge accepted that the ‘telephone’ incident, taken by itself, would probably not give rise to a concern over impairment, however, he noted that it had been taken into account by the Panel as part of an overall picture. 

After outlining in full the extent of the inappropriate behaviour, highlighting that some of it had been conducted after Dr Ujam had been warned about his behaviour, the learned Judge found ‘no possible basis for ruling that the Panel’s assessment of the Appellant’s misconduct as having been serious and such as to bring the profession into disrepute was wrong’. He stated that ‘it is plainly undesirable that a doctor’s concentration should be impaired by harassment of this kind when she is supposed to be focussing on patient care’.

The Judge noted that it was not surprising that the Panel should have commented on Dr Ujam’s lack of insight – a conclusion which he stated was reinforced by his dismissively characterising the behaviour in the submissions for appeal as simply ‘attempts to chat up work colleagues’.  

Whilst there must be clear and distinct stages in proceedings such as these, there is an element of overlap when considering insight or lack of it.  If a Panel consider that a Registrant presents as someone who is insensitive to their behaviour and its effects, it can legitimately take the view that such an attitude would be relevant to both impairment and to sanction if necessary.

Sarah Harris

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