News Courts

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Well-known surgeon overturns Medical Council ruling against him

Prof Martin Corbally overturned finding regarding tongue-tie procedure

Martin Corbally
Martin Corbally

Consultant paediatrician Professor Martin Corbally has won High Court orders overturning a finding of poor professional performance made against him after an incorrect `tongue-tie' procedure was carried out on a young patient of his by another doctor.

Corrective surgery was quickly carried out by Dr Corbally and the two year girl involved suffered no adverse consequences, the court previously heard.

Dr Corbally, with an address at Corballis, Donabate, Co Dublin but working in Bahrain, was entitled to orders quashing the finding and sanction of admonishment imposed on him, the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, ruled today.

The finding and penalty imposed on Dr Corbally were disproportionate in the circumstances of this case, he said. 

The censure of this eminent surgeon had also attracted widespread publicity, he noted.

The absence of a right of appeal against a sanction of censure or admonishment brought the proportionality test "sharply into focus". What had happened here was "a note taking error" which was "not particularly serious" and readily discoverable from a variety of sources. The admitted error was also not truly causative of the damage that ensued, he found.

The judge said he was satisfied the Medical Council's Fitness to Pratice Committee, when making the finding of poor professional performance (PPP) against Dr Corbally, had breached fair procedures in that they attributed blame to him for systems failures which, the judge said,  were really the failures of of Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin.

While Dr Corbally obviously had clinical responsibility for the patient in his care, it was not appropriate that he be disciplined for systems failures for which he has no direct responsibility, the judge said. Those failures incoluded the fact that three versions of frenulum release were characterised only as "tongue-tie" operations.

There was also no rational basis to make an adverse finding against Dr Corbally in relation to an instruction given to a junior doctor in circumstances where that arose when Dr Corbally was rushing to another emergency, he added.

Dr Corbally had delegated the procedure to a competent doctor, Dr Fahran Tareen, by reference to the hospital's theatre list, the judge said.  A finding of PPP could not necessarily arise when the instruction given was easily capable of being clarified by Dr Tareen in advance of the specified procedure, he found. 

The case arose after the FtP Commitee found poor professional performance against Dr Corbally arising from an incorrect tongue-tie operation performed in April 2010 at Our Lady's Hospital, Crumlin,  on a two year old girl in his care by Dr Tareen when she required a different operation.

The court heard Dr Corbally had at an earlier consultation assessed the child as requiring an upper labial frenectomty, involving excision of the fold of skin attaching her upper lip to her gum.  Due to what he alleged was a "systems failure" at the hospital, the procedure was incorrectly inputted by an administrator as a tongue-tie procedure, involving excision of the fold of skin beneath the tongue.

The Committee concluded PPP against Dr Corbally on foot of findings he incorrectly described the procedure required by the child in his Outpatient notes, failed to communicate adequately to Dr Tareen and failed to apply appropriate standards of clinical judgment expected from a surgeon with his experience.

Dr Corbally had argued the finding of PPP was not proven, irrational and disproportionate. A stay on both finding and sanction was imposed pending the outcome of the case, also brought against the State on grounds it had breached Dr Corbally's rights under the European Convention of Human Rights due to the absence of any right of appeal against a sanction of censure or admonishment in the Medical Practitioners Act 2007.

A central issue in the case involved the court considering for the first time what is captured by the definition of "poor professional performance" in the 2007 Act. The constitutional and EECHR claims were parked pending the court's findings on the other issues and have bene adjourned while the sides consider today's judgment.

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