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Case Study - Criminal Conviction

Learning from Fitness to Practise Inquiries: Doctors with Criminal Convictions

The Medical Council publishes case studies based on fitness to practise inquiries held under the provisions of Part 8 of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007 for the purposes of providing learning outcomes. Names, places and certain facts have accordingly been omitted and/or altered.

NOTE: This case study does not form part of the Guide to Ethics and Professionalism for Registered Medical Practitioners, nor does it constitute legal advice.

A healthcare professional complained about a colleague. The doctor in question was engaged by a locum agency providing out-of-hours services known as ‘Doctor on Duty’. The doctor was scheduled to work for a local general practice. He drove to the practice and, on his way there, he crashed his car down an embankment. No one was injured. A Garda arrived on the scene and got a smell of alcohol from the doctor’s breath and observed him to be unsteady on his feet. He was breathalysed and when he failed the test he was arrested and taken to the local Garda station. He refused to provide either a urine or blood sample and was charged and later convicted.

The matter was considered by the Preliminary Proceedings Committee. In his initial response the doctor denied he was drunk and that he failed the breath test. The Committee decided to refer the complaint to the Fitness to Practise Committee for an inquiry on the grounds of professional misconduct.

At the inquiry, which was held in public, the Fitness to Practise Committee found that the doctor was under the influence of alcohol when he knew or ought to have known that he was scheduled for duty later that day and that this amounted to Professional Misconduct. In doing so, the Committee rejected the doctor’s evidence that he was not under the influence of alcohol. The Committee found  that the doctor’s conduct was “disgraceful or dishonourable and/or seriously fell short of the standards of conduct expected of medical practitioners, whether by omission or commission”.

The Medical Council, taking all of the available evidence into account, decided to suspend the doctor’s registration for three months.

The Council’s decision was subsequently confirmed by the High Court.

Advice from the Ethical Guide

Doctors are required by law to notify the Council of anything that might affect their continuing registration, including criminal convictions in or outside the State (see paragraph 2.3 of the Ethical Guide).

What was wrong with this scenario?

  1. When stopped by the Gardaí, the doctor, just like any other person, should have cooperated at the scene of the accident. Following arrest, he failed to comply with the lawful demand of An Garda Síochana;
  2. The doctor should have promptly informed the Medical Council of his criminal conviction, as he is legally obliged to do so. The doctor’s colleague was justified in informing the Medical Council;
  3. The doctor’s behaviour could also potentially undermine trust in the profession generally.

Professional misconduct is defined as:

"2.1.1     conduct which doctors of experience, competence and good repute consider disgraceful or dishonourable; and / or

2.1.2     conduct connected with his or her profession in which the doctor concerned has seriously fallen short by omission or commission of the standards of conduct expected among doctors".

As a doctor, you should be aware that one of the grounds on which a complaint can be made against you is a conviction for a criminal offence (see paragraph 2.3 of the Ethical Guide). You should also be aware that you are legally obliged to notify the Medical Council of any such criminal convictions (see paragraph 54.3 of the Ethical Guide). You must notify the Council within 30 days of learning of your conviction. The police or courts may also notify the Council about convictions. You must also be up front about any criminal convictions when making your annual declaration to the Medical Council.

Concerned about a colleague?

In the above case, the Medical Council was notified about the doctor’s criminal conviction by a colleague. Paragraphs 50 and 73 of the Ethical Guide address concerns about colleagues. If you have concerns about your health or the health of a doctor you know, please consider the following options:

The Medical Council has established a Health Sub-Committee which monitors and advises Council about the health of individual doctors who have relevant medical disabilities.

Further information is available on our website here: