The Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (“PSA”) brought an appeal under section 29 of the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Act 2002 (“the 2002 Act”). The appeal was against a decision of the Health and Care Professions Council’s (“HCPC”) Conduct and Competence Committee (“the Committee”) made on 9 January 2019 (“the Decision”).
By the Decision, the Committee imposed a six-month suspension (with review to follow suspension) upon Mr Wood, a registered paramedic.
The PSA referred the case to the High Court on the grounds that there were serious procedural irregularities in the proceedings before the Committee: the PSA argued that the HCPC failed to bring the real substance of Mr. Wood’s claimed misconduct to the attention of the Committee, i.e that the misconduct was of a sexually predatory nature and was undertaken in relation to a highly vulnerable patient, a young woman (known as “Patient A”) at a time when Mr. Wood was attending upon her at home to provide emergency clinical care. The failure to put the substance before the panel may have led, it is argued by the PSA, to an overly lenient decision on sanction which did not adequately reflect the true gravity of Mr. Wood’s actions.
The HCPC accepted that the matter had been “under-charged” in that the case before the Committee had been wrongly limited to the sexually motivated text messages sent after the consultation. Mr Woods took a position which he described (through counsel) as neutral, but in essence argued against the appeal.
Saini J, hearing the appeal, found that the main point was a simple one: this was never a case which should have been confined to the text messages and events after the attendance on Patient A. The drawing of a line between the events at the consultation and the post-consultation events was a significant error. The prosecutor essentially missed the main point. Had that point been made and established on the evidence one cannot say that the ultimate sanction would have been a 6 month suspension.
The judgment is also important for again emphasising that where a patient is particularly vulnerable, there is a greater duty on the healthcare professional to safeguard the patient. Using a professional position to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with a vulnerable patient is an aggravating factor that increases the gravity of the concern and is likely to require more serious action against a healthcare practitioner.
Alexis Hearnden acted for the PSA, Victoria Butler-Cole QC acted for the HCPC.