A GARDA given just months to live after his doctor failed to pass on test results – and then tried to cover it up – has said his family is “facing down the barrel of a gun”.
Superintendent Martin Dorney, 50, who is married with three children, and who last week celebrated 30 years in the Force, told a Medical Council inquiry that the statistics showed he had “six to nine months” to live.
He was giving evidence at a Fitness to Practise (FTP) committee hearing at which his GP, Dr Patrick Joseph Lee, 45, conceded 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.
Superintendent Dorney, based in Kanturk, Co Cork, said he accepted mistakes can be made in any profession but those who make them “must be man enough to put their hand up”.
Dr Lee, who has a practice at the Square in Ballincollig, said he had “a profound sense of shame” for what he had done.
“I have lived with the embarrassment and the shame I have caused my own family from a place I never envisaged myself being,” Dr Lee said.
Dr Lee also told the inquiry he is considering a trawl of all his patients’ charts to ensure other errors have not occurred. The practice has up to 10,000 patients.
Superintendent Dorney had been a patient of Dr Lee’s since 1997 and they had got to know each other through Dr Lee’s work taking blood samples from drivers suspected of drink driving. In July 2003, during a family holiday in France, Supt Dorney, who lives in Ballinora, Waterfall, Co Cork, told the inquiry he and his wife became concerned about a mole that had darkened in colour and become itchy. He attended Dr Lee’s surgery on his return during which he raised his concerns about the mole on his right knee. Dr Lee removed the mole and sent the biopsy for analysis to Cork University Hospital. The report that came back said the mole was not malignant but it also contained a warning that it displayed characteristics that may be a pre-cursor to cancer. It also recommended a “wider local incision”, in other words, the removal of additional tissue.
However Dr Lee, who was on holidays when the report came in, admitted to the inquiry that he had “flipped through” a backlog of reports on his return and had not spotted the recommendation. He said it was only in March 2009, when Superintendent Dorney came to him with a diagnosis of metastatic malignant melanoma that he “saw for the first time” the recommendation for further surgery. He told the inquiry that he did not disclose this information because he panicked; that he had a good relationship with the Dorneys and that he “didn’t have the courage to compound their problems” by admitting his mistake.
Instead, he attempted to alter the original report by photocopying it and tearing off the finding and recommendation.
It was a month before he confessed to the Dorneys what he had done. Supt Dorney told the inquiry Dr Lee initially tried to blame it on a surgery administration error. He also said he believed Dr Lee had only come clean because he panicked that he would be found out when it become clear other consultants wanted to review the original 2003 slides and read the original report. Dr Lee disputed this, attributing his action to panic when he realised the primary site for Supt Dorney’s cancer may have been his knee and when he realised “I was responsible for the suffering of a family”.
Supt Dorney told the inquiry he has since undergone very aggressive treatments, suffered excruciating pain and has “good days and bad days”.
The committee did not reach a conclusion after the hearing yesterday in Cork during which Dr Lee faced 15 allegations, some of which he admits amount to professional misconduct. A finding will be published shortly on the Medical Council website. Dr Lee requested that the inquiry consider censuring him but it has the power to impose sanctions up to and including cancellation of his licence to practise.
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