Back to school…but is it time for a change?
A key duty under the GMC’s Good Medical Practice guidance for doctors is that of maintaining trust by acting with honesty and integrity. There is a specific duty to ‘always be honest about your experience, qualifications and current role’ (paragraph 66). In 2011, Mr Supid Sarker lied and grossly exaggerated his experience in order to secure a consultant role. In doing so he breached the duties placed upon him and put patients’ lives at risk.
Mr Sarker (although currently suspended), has been on the GMC’s specialist register since December 2009 as a general surgeon. In 2011 he lied to a panel of interviewers to obtain a consultant post at the Alexandra Hospital (the Hospital) in Redditch. He told interviewers that he had far more surgical experience than he in fact had. Reports suggest that he told interviewers that he had performed 85 keyhole bowel operations, 51 of them whilst working solo. The true figure was just six.
Concerns regarding Mr Sarker’s surgical skills emerged quite quickly.
Mr Sarker, in accepting the role, clearly failed to recognise and work within the limits of his competence as required under paragraph 14 of Good Medical Practice. This was confirmed by an investigation of the Royal College of Surgeons which found that his surgical knowledge fell ‘significantly below’ the level expected.
The Hospital, as a result of Mr Sarker’s actions, has so far paid out nearly £2 million in damages emanating from clinical negligence claims. While prosecutors have decided there is insufficient evidence to bring gross negligence manslaughter charges against Mr Sarker, there will be inquests into the deaths of four of his patients.
Mr Sarker’s explanation (which was rejected by the jury) was that he had made a ‘guestimate’ about the number of keyhole operations he had performed, that he was very nervous for the interview and had misunderstood the question. He was convicted of fraud by way of false representation due to telling significant lies and grossly exaggerating his surgical experience. Interestingly, in his sentencing remarks, HHJ Robert Juckes QC Court commented that the Hospital was not to be blamed as Mr Sarker had provided proper references from previous employers. He noted that Mr Sarker had put peoples’ lives at risk. He stated: “You plainly understood what it was the hospital wanted you to talk about, and you grossly exaggerated your experience of that particular operation”.
The embellishment of professional experience or qualifications by professionals is not unheard of, nor is it conduct that inextricably leads to career ending regulatory intervention. This case is an extreme example of such conduct, which ultimately had a detrimental effect on patient safety and is likely to be taken very seriously indeed by the GMC. I often speak to doctors who are concerned that low level conduct relating to the (mis)representation of their experience, will lead to them facing regulatory proceedings and removal from the register. The truth is that some conduct is more culpable and serious than other conduct and accordingly, the GMC seeks to take a proportionate response to concerns raised. An early admission, explanation and the presence of mitigating circumstances, can make an important difference to the outcome. We have recently represented doctors facing allegations of misrepresenting their experience and have secured better than expected results.
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