A former president of the Irish Hospital Consultants’ Association has been found guilty of “poor professional performance” by a fitness to practice inquiry of the Medical Council.
Dr Colm Quigley is the clinical director at Wexford General Hospital and is himself a former president of the Medical Council.
The findings will now be forwarded to the board of the Medical Council who will deliberate and decide on what sanctions – if any – will be imposed on Dr Quigley.
The finding of poor professional performance of a doctor is distinct from from from the more serious accusation of “professional misconduct”, which was not levelled against him.
The case relates to a patient – known only as Patient X – who was referred by his GP to Dr Quigley’s private clinic at the Ely Hospital at Ferrybank, Co Wexford on August 27, 2009.
Patient X was said to have been suffering from a number of complaints including low sodium in the blood.
After the consultation, Dr Quigley wrote to Patient X’s GP and said he would be carrying out a series of tests on Patient X. These tests were never carried out. Patient X died of inoperable lung cancer on April 16th, 2011. There is no allegation that Dr Quigley caused deterioration in the patient’s health or in any way contributed to his death.
Dr Quigley told the inquiry he believed subsequent examination of medical records had shown Patient X had not contracted the cancer that killed him in 2010 – and so the missing tests in 2009 could not have revealed it.
However, the committee found Dr Quigley was guilty of “poor professional performance” in failing to arrange the tests, failing to recognise the tests had not been carried out, and failing to have “any adequate system” in place for tracking or monitoring tests.
He was also guilty of failing to “respond adequately” to letters and phone calls over a number of months by Patient X, his wife, and his GP enquiring as to why the tests had not yet been carried out.
It was proven beyond reasonable doubt that Dr Quigley, in or after the first consulation in August, failed to “ensure” the tests were carried out – but this was not deemed to constitute “poor professional performance”.
Dr Quigley was found not guilty of allegations that at consultations in August and December 2009, he failed to take “any adequate history” or undertake “any adequate examination” of Patient X.
He was also found not guilty of an allegation that he “failed to maintain adequate records in respect of the care afforded” to Patient X.
During closing statements, Neasa Bird, for the Medical Council, said Dr Quigley had been unable to provide an explanation or excuse as to why the series of tests were not carried out.
The crux of the prosecution case hung on the argument that Dr Quigley had not been responsible for one mistake, but “a series of errors over a long period of time”. She said this amounted to a case of poor professional performance.
In his closing statement, Paul Anthony McDermott, counsel for Dr Quigley, said his client’s position was the same as it had been from the outset – that “a mistake” had occurred.
He said Dr Quigley had an otherwise “unblemished” record.
“What this case does establish is that paper-based systems can go wrong. Ireland is moving towards computer-based systems which should ensure that something like this never happens again.”
He said it was “ironic” that Dr Quigley was the subject of an inquiry having “spent much of his time protecting patients in the role as clinical director (at Wexford General Hospital)”.
Concerning allegations from the Medical Council that Dr Quigley had implicated himself with an admission that his handling of Patient X had “fallen below (his) standards”, Mr McDermott said this was “unfair”.
“His standards are unusually high and he has been a perfectionist. It’s unfair to turn that approach on him and use his own evidence to condemn him. He said ‘I wanted to do better’ and that is being used against him.”
The committee heard Dr Quigley has made “significant changes” to his practice, including the reduction of the number of patients he sees. “He is making changes to make sure this never happens again,” added Mr McDermott.