A NHS Tayside doctor has been suspended after a medical tribunal found her ‘repeated dishonesty’ had the potential to cause harm and bring the profession into disrepute.
Dr Megan Whittaker was this month found, by The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS), to have committed serious misconduct during the incidents in 2019.
These included Dr Whittaker lying to her superiors by saying she had attended a conference when she had not, and taking actions that could have swayed the outcome of a performance review.
At the time, she was practising as a trainee in trauma and orthopaedics at Perth Royal Infirmary (PRI).
Investigators say in 2019, Dr Whittaker was due to undergo Multi Source Feedback (MSF) – a process to gain feedback on performance and to assess skill levels and behaviour.
Dr Whittaker was told her educational supervisor was to select half of those who would provide her feedback (“raters”).
However, she failed to follow this instruction and selected all raters herself.
She was also found to have submitted an application for study leave to attend a conference (“Congress”).
However, she failed to attend the event and did not advise her supervisor of her non-attendance.
‘A disregard of professional obligations’
When asked at an Annual Review of Competence (ARCP) in December 2019 if she had attended the event, she stated she had attended the event, when she had not.
In her ruling, tribunal chair Ms Margaret Obi said while Dr Whittaker’s actions had not caused direct harm, her conduct demonstrated “a disregard of her professional obligations”.
She said: “If Dr Whittaker’s non-attendance at the Congress had not been uncovered her employers and supervisors would have assumed that she had attended, and the expectation would be that she had learnt something relevant to her professional role.”
She further examined the impact of Dr Whittaker choosing her own raters: “[Dr Whittaker] had been specifically directed to ensure [her educational supervisor] selected half of the raters.
“The tribunal accepted the evidence of [training programme director] that this was to ensure raters were not selected on the basis that they would be favourable to Dr Whittaker.”
The tribunal acknowledged the incidents took place at a time Dr Whittaker was going through “personal and workplace stress“.
She stated she felt isolated after moving to Dundee and had no family living in Scotland at the time. She said she was “lonely and miserable”.
Furthermore, Dr Whittaker said she’d spoken with her supervisor in a corridor after a busy clinic about selecting her raters.
She told the tribunal she verbally presented a list of around 10 raters from whom she had requested feedback. She said her supervisor had suggested adding more registrars.
However, her supervisor said it was highly unlikely he would discuss such a critical component of her assessment like this.
He stated selection of raters would not have been taken lightly given the number of
concerns raised at Dr Whittaker’s previous MSF.
The tribunal concluded the brief ‘corridor conversation’ was an insufficient basis for Dr Whittaker to assert her supervisor had approved or was happy with the selection of the raters.
On the decision to suspend Dr Whittaker for six months, the tribunal noted: “Doctors occupy a position of privilege and trust. They are expected to act in a manner which maintains public confidence in them and in the medical profession.
“Dr Whittaker’s repeated dishonesty had the potential to cause harm and brought the profession into disrepute.
“Reasonable and well-informed members of the public would be extremely concerned to learn that a registered medical practitioner had failed to attend a Congress, lied about it when challenged, selected all the raters for her ARCP and once again initially lied about that when challenged.
“A suspension order would have a deterrent effect and could be used to send a signal to Dr Whittaker, the profession and the public re-affirming the high standards of conduct and behaviour expected of registered medical practitioners at all times.”
A spokesperson for NHS Tayside said: “We do not comment on matters relating to individual members of staff.”
Dr Whittaker was approached for comment.