Dentist who failed to carry out biopsy of lesion censured

A dentist who admitted professional misconduct over failure to carry out a biopsy of a lesion in the floor of a patient's mouth has had conditions imposed on his registration by the High Court.
Dentist who failed to carry out biopsy of lesion censured
Dr Joseph Clifford Beirne admitted professional misconduct over failure to carry out a biopsy of a lesion in the floor of a patient's mouth. Picture: File image

A dentist who admitted professional misconduct over failure to carry out a biopsy of a lesion in the floor of a patient's mouth has had conditions imposed on his registration by the High Court.

The patient was referred by his regular dentist in late 2015 to Dr Joseph Clifford Beirne, of Unit 12, Sports Surgery Clinic, Northwood Park, Santry, Dublin 9, with a request a biopsy be carried out on a lesion in his lower mouth but that was not done.

When the patient attended his regular dentist some six months later, the latter was concerned the lesion was still there and sent the patient that same day for a biopsy.

The patient was diagnosed with a sqamous cell cancer for which he had to undergo chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. This had "profound effects" on the patient who considered himself fortunate to have "come out the other side", the court heard.

An inquiry by a Dental Council Fitness to Practice was later held during which Dr Beirne admitted allegations of professional misconduct, expressed his regret and apologised to the patient. The patient was described as "measured" in his evidence with no animus to the dentist but anxious to ensure what happened to him would not happen to other patients in Dr Beirne's care in the future.

Dr Beirne gave evidence to the inquiry about steps he had taken to remedy the deficits in his practice and to develop his skills.

Last February, the committee found the allegations of professional misconduct were proven, including allegations of failing to read and properly consider the referral email from the patient's regular dentist, failure to carry out a biopsy of the lesion, or to arrange for a biopsy to be carried out, and failure to carry out such tests as were appropriate to form a definitive diagnosis.

The committee found the failures amounted to a serious falling short in the standards expected of Dr Beirne as a dentist and/or a dentist specialising in oral surgery.

It took into account Dr Beirne had no previous disciplinary record since he began practise as a doctor in 1982 and an oral surgeon in 1989, his long and distinguished career, good standing among peers and the insight he had demonstrated into the shortcomings and the measures he had taken to address them.

The council ultimately recommended the dentist be censured, with conditions on his registration until those were fulfilled.

When the matter came before High Court president Ms Justice Mary Irvine on Monday, she approved the proposed sanction and conditions as sought by counsel Eoghan Cole, for the council.

These include Dr Beirne agreeing to inspections, assessments and audits of his practice, including his record keeping and system for dealing with referrals, by an appropriately qualified person approved by the council from December 1, 2015, to date until they are deemed no longer necessary by the approved person. Dr Beirne is also to attend clinics over the next 12 months for the purposes of addressing any deficiency in his management of oral dysplasia and malignancy.

Ms Justice Irvine was told Dr Beirne, represented by Cathal Murphy, did not take issue with the proposed conditions which, once fulfilled, would not remain on his registration.

The judge said, on the evidence, she was satisfied the decision of the Council and the proposed conditions were proportionate.

She commended Dr Beirne for the manner in which he had met the inquiry, in admitting professional misconduct and taking it on himself to immediately act to improve his general practice and management of files and the training he had undertaken voluntarily in Manchester for a significant period.

Those factors were all to his credit, she said.

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