Medical Council gets priority appeal over poor professional performance ruling

Thursday 29 May 2014 23.03
Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns found it was not reasonable to blame Dr Martin Corbally for systems failures
Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns found it was not reasonable to blame Dr Martin Corbally for systems failures

The Supreme Court is to give a priority hearing to an appeal by the Medical Council against a High Court decision which overturned a finding of poor professional performance against consultant paediatrician Professor Martin Corbally.

The court was told the priority hearing was necessary because of the "very significant" implications for the wider medical and healthcare professions.

In his judgment on Dr Corbally's action, the President of the High Court gave the first ever courts' interpretation of the meaning of "poor professional performance" in the 2007 Medical Practitioners Act.

Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns indicated any such finding could in certain circumstances be based on a fair sample of a doctor's work rather than a once-off incident that was not very serious.

Lawyers for the Medical Council today said the finding is of significant importance to the Medical Council.

Senior Counsel Patrick Leonard said the "vast" number of cases where poor professional performance (PPP) is alleged are based on a single incident.

If the High Court decision is upheld, that would effectively mean there would be no inquiries into allegations of PPP with very significant effects for the regulation of 18,000 doctors in the country and also for nurses, midwives and pharmacists, he said.

This appeal was therefore "very significant" for the regulation of the medical and healthcare professions and the council was anxious it be heard as soon as possible.

Eileen Barrington SC, for Dr Corbally, supported the application for priority.

This case involved the first opportunity for the courts to decide the meaning of PPP and whether a "once-off human error" was capable of constituting PPP, she said.

She also wanted a priority hearing because of the impact of this matter on Dr Corbally as it had been hanging over him for years.

The Chief Justice said the court would hear the appeal as soon as possible for the reasons outlined by the council and because of the impact on Prof Corbally. 

She hoped to fix a hearing date sometime in the next court term, which ends on 31 July.

Dr Corbally challenged the finding of poor professional performance made against him after another doctor carried out an incorrect `tongue-tie' procedure on a young patient of Dr Corbally's. 

In his judgment, Mr Justice Kearns found the finding "disproportionate" and not reasonable and amounted to blaming Dr Corbally for systems failures at Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin, for which he was not responsible.

Corrective surgery was quickly carried out by Dr Corbally on the two-year-old girl, who had made a full recovery, he noted.

A finding of PPP could not rationally arise from the fact Dr Corbally delegated the procedure to another competent doctor after being called to emergency surgery, he also found.

The "real problem" lay with hospital systems which did not allow for Dr Corbally's detailed and correct description of the required procedure on the child's admission card to be properly transcribed. 

The judge ruled Dr Corbally, from Corballis, Donabate, Co Dublin who is working in Bahrain, was entitled to orders quashing the finding of PPP and sanction of admonishment imposed on him.