Tribunal suspends ‘regretful’ doctor for punching colleague on night out

24 Apr 2017 By Georgi Gyton

'Unusual’ case shows regulators are prepared to intervene in conduct outside workplace

A doctor has been given a one-month suspension by a tribunal after punching a colleague during a night out, as legal experts said the personal behaviour of employees in heavily regulated sectors was increasingly likely to come under legal scrutiny.  

Dr David Arundel, who works at the Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby, had been socialising with friends in York city centre on 25 January 2015 when he claimed that he became involved in an argument with ‘Dr A’ about arrangements to stay at his flat that night. He was cautioned by police the following month.

“I lost my temper, swung out with a fist and hit [Dr A] once in the face, which I instantly regretted. I had drunk alcohol earlier that evening but was sober at the time of the incident after being split up from the group,” Dr Arundel told the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service in Manchester.

The tribunal found that despite disparities between the accounts of the evening’s events – both about the number of blows and Dr Arundel’s actions after the initial assault – there was no dispute that Dr Arundel had lost his temper and assaulted Dr A.

“This was not a sustained assault; Dr A did not lose consciousness and you did make a limited assessment of his welfare before walking away to defuse the situation,” said Bernard Herdan, tribunal chair. “Nevertheless, the tribunal concluded that this was a serious and unjustified assault resulting in an injury that required hospital treatment.”

The tribunal decided it was necessary to suspend Dr Arundel’s registration to the medical register for one month, after it was deemed his fitness to practise was impaired. It concluded that the ruling was required to promote and maintain public confidence in the profession and to promote and maintain proper professional standards and conduct for members of the profession.

Herdan said the tribunal considered that “a one-month period of suspension would mark the seriousness of your caution and send a message to the medical profession about the unacceptability of your underlying behaviour”.

Carl Johnson, partner and professional misconduct specialist at national law firm Stephensons, said it was a common misconception that professional regulators like the General Medical Council were only concerned with protecting safety.

“Criminal convictions or cautions relating to conduct outside of work will almost always attract the attention of professional regulators, especially when they relate to dishonesty, violence or sexual offences,” he said.

“In considering the appropriate sanction, the panel will have had regard to the need to protect the public interest and the reputation of the medical profession. The High Court has recently considered this point in relation to the regulation of pharmacists. The court ruled that it is entirely appropriate for a professional regulator to set and enforce standards of behaviour outside of work and this does not infringe a professional’s human rights in relation to privacy and freedom of expression.”  

Melanie Stancliffe, employment partner at Irwin Mitchell, said it was unusual for a criminal offence committed outside of work to be grounds for disciplinary sanction: “But in extreme circumstances, they can be held relevant to your ability to perform a role or be trusted.”

She said there was an increasing blurring of the lines between private and public life, “whether it’s conduct on a night out or what you post on Facebook”.

“Employers that have alerted their employees to the fact that their conduct inside and outside of work is relevant to their role will be entitled to sanction the employees, or even dismiss them, if they fail to keep to the employer’s required level of behaviour,” added Stancliffe.

Dr Arundel’s suspension will begin after a 28-day appeal period.

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