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Doctor guilty of poor performance in care of dying cancer patient

A DOCTOR has been found guilty of poor professional performance but cleared of the more serious charge of professional misconduct after a crucial biopsy for a cancer patient was delayed.

Dr Etop Sampson Akpan originally faced 41 allegations arising from the case of Sharon McEneaney.

Ms McEneaney endured significant delays in her treatment for abdominal cancer at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Co Louth.

The 29-year-old, a creche manager from Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan, died in April 2009.

A decision to carry out a biopsy was made in February 2008; however, this was not performed until five months later in July. A Medical Council committee yesterday cleared Dr Akpan, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, of 12 charges of professional misconduct. All the other allegations were withdrawn.

However, he was found guilty of poor professional performance on two allegations -- that, following a consultation with Ms McEneaney on July 2, 2008, he failed to take adequate steps to implement the plan recorded in the medical notes, and that later the same month he told her that her cancer was malignant over the telephone, rather than face to face.

On one of the central allegations -- that following a consultation with Ms McEneaney in February that year, he had failed to make adequate arrangements for a CT ultrasound-guided biopsy -- the committee found that Dr Akpan had attached a note ordering the procedure on the patient chart. It said that while this was not the "optimum" means of arranging the biopsy, it was the accepted procedure in the hospital at that time.

The committee heard previously that Dr Akpan had left the note because the registrar and secretaries dealing with public patients had already left at the end of the day. He was "horrified" when he learned in early July that the biopsy had never been carried out.

Following the hearing, solicitor for Dr Akpan, Sinead Keavey, said her client wanted to renew his "sincere regret and sympathy" to the McEneaney family.

"However, he is pleased with the outcome today. He has been cleared of all allegations of professional misconduct.

"He has been found guilty of poor professional performance, this was relating to a short delay in chasing up his registrar and the manner by which he conveyed the diagnosis to Ms Sharon McEneaney," she added.

Members of Ms McEneaney's family were visibly upset after the committee delivered its decision and declined to comment last night.

Senior counsel for Dr Akpan, Eileen Barrington, earlier told the hearing that while the standard of care received by Ms McEneaney was "sub-optimum and should not have happened", the consultant was not guilty of professional misconduct.

She said that, had better support structures been in place at the hospital, the delay in Ms McEneaney having the biopsy would have been "picked up".

She said that there were "many, many lost opportunities" and that doctors at the hospital at that time were working in an environment that put patients at risk.

Ms Barrington added: "It can't be said because there was a systems failure somebody must be held to account, somebody must be found guilty of professional misconduct."

She described Dr Akpan as a "dedicated clinician" who loved his job and was held in high regard.The committee will now decide what sanctions, if any, should be imposed. These will be decided at the next hearing of the full Medical Council.

Ms McEneaney was the eldest of five children. She attended the emergency department of the Lourdes hospital three times between October and November 2007 and a diagnosis of neurofibromatosis was made in December 2007.

She was referred to Beaumont Hospital for treatment in July 2008 and died in April 2009.

Irish Independent