GP acted ‘disgracefully’ over cancer cover-up

A DOCTOR who admitted trying to cover up his failure to note a recommendation of further surgery for a now terminally ill patient behaved disgracefully, the Irish Medical Council’s fitness to practise committee said yesterday.

It recommended that Cork GP Dr Patrick Joseph Lee be suspended from practising medicine for three months after finding that the doctor’s behaviour fell seriously short of the standard expected of a medical practitioner.

Garda Superintendent Martin Dorney, 50, a married man with three children, living in Waterfall, Co Cork, complained to the council about Dr Lee’s failure to send him for further investigative surgery that would have given him a 95% chance of survival.

He told the inquiry he had stage four cancer and statistics showed he had “six to nine months” to live.

Dr Lee, 45, who has a practice in Ballincollig, Co Cork, conceded during the inquiry that he had tried to cover up his negligence by altering a biopsy report to make it look as though the recommendation for further surgery had not been made.

“His dishonesty, deliberate deception and persistent attempts to avoid taking responsibility for his failure to carefully and comprehensively read and follow up on Supt Dorney’s histology report in 2003 constitutes disgraceful and dishonourable conduct,” the committee concluded. It said it was satisfied that Dr Lee now fully acknowledges and took responsibility for his error and the extremely serious impact it had on Supt Dorney.

“Dr Lee has expressed deep and sincere regret and guilt for his failure and has apologised to Mr Dorney and his family for his error and subsequent action,” it said. The committee has recommended that the doctor be supervised over a two-year period and provide evidence of an audit on all tests carried out on his patients within the last five years. A general meeting of the Medical Council will consider the committee’s recommendation before sending its decision to the High Court for confirmation. The fitness to practise committee found that 10 of the 15 allegations made against Dr Lee did amount to professional misconduct or poor professional performance. One of the allegations upheld was that Dr Lee concealed the full contents of the report advising surgery in April 2009 and such action amounted to professional misconduct.

Also upheld was the allegation that Dr Lee had blocked out sections of a version of the histology report entitled “comment” and “conclusion” and the pathologist’s name.

In a statement issued through his solicitors yesterday, Supt Dorney said he was not vindictive or bitter but was concerned that there could be a recurrence of what happened to him.

“Dr Lee has apologised to me personally and I have accepted his apology,” he said.

“It seems to me that unless the system changes, there is going to be more errors and, unfortunately, more fatalities. The system that was adopted by Dr Lee and the pathologists, is one that is capable of error,” he said.

He urged both the College of General Practitioners and the consultants involved in issuing results to GPs to review their procedures to see how they could be tightened up.

“It is too late for me, but I just hope it is not too late for somebody else,” he said.

Supt Dorney thanked the hundreds of people who had offered sympathy, support and prayers.

“This is a source of great comfort to me and my family,” he said.


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