Fitness to practice: a publick case

Between various tasks I glanced at one of the NZ news websites and found this. It raises questions. The first is why is this woman claiming that she wants to be a heart surgeon — getting from medical school into any surgical training programme is hard, and cardiac surgery even harder — and the second is if she is fit to practice. From the paper.

An Oxford University student who stabbed her boyfriend with a bread knife may not go to jail because it would damage her future career as a heart surgeon.

Lavinia Woodward, 24, punched her boyfriend, who she met on dating app Tinder, and then stabbed him in the leg during an alcohol-and-drug-fuelled row at England’s Christ Church College on September 30, The Guardian reported.

Woodward then hurled a laptop, glass and jam jar at him.

At Oxford crown court on Tuesday (NZT) Judge Ian Pringle QC said he would take the “exceptional” step of defering Woodward’s sentencing for four months.

The Guardian reported that Pringle hinted that Woodward will not be jailed because of her talent.

“It seems to me that if this was a one-off, a complete one-off, to prevent this extraordinary able young lady from not following her long-held desire to enter the profession she wishes to would be a sentence which would be too severe,” Pringle said.

“What you did will never, I know, leave you, but it was pretty awful, and normally it would attract a custodial sentence, whether it is immediate or suspended.”

The court was told that Christ Church would allow her to return in October because she “is that bright” and has had articles published in medical journals.

Woodward’s lawyer James Sturman QC said she’d had a very troubled life and was abused by a previous boyfriend.

Woodward is under the rules of the UK General Medical Council, which is not without its faults, advises medical students the following.

Under the terms of the Medical Act 1983, a registered doctor’s fitness to practise may be impaired by reason of:

  • misconduct
  • deficient professional performance
  • a conviction or caution in the British Isles (or a conviction elsewhere for an offence which would be a criminal offence if committed in England or Wales)
  • adverse physical or mental health
  • not having the necessary knowledge of English
  • a determination (decision) by a regulatory body responsible for regulation of a health or social care profession, either in the UK or overseas, to the effect that their fitness to practise as a member of the profession is impaired.

The GMC uses these reasons for impairment when it applies the test of fitness to practise to registered doctors and those applying for registration. Medical schools may also wish to refer to these reasons for impairment when they make decisions about a student’s fitness to practise.

Medical schools and universities should be aware that fitness to practise concerns can involve issues that fit into more than one category. Where there are multiple issues (for example, health and misconduct), the medical school must consider all matters and must take account of the cumulative effect of all impairing factors. It’s important to make sure the student is given appropriate support and, where a health condition is involved, the opportunity to seek appropriate treatment.

I have little sympathy for Ms Woodward’s ambitions. I deal, clinically, with the grief many first year students have because they fail and cannot get into the course they want. I am quite aware that a similar allegation would lead to the NZ Medical council considering my fitness to practice. On this issue, the primary concern is public safety, and the distress that doctors suffer when suspended or struck off is seen as an acceptable cost.

It may be that Ms Woodward walks, and develops a glittering career. But many young working class men and women would serve time for the same act. And when we such, we should all think that there, but for the grace of God, go I: for wrath is within us all.

3 thoughts on “Fitness to practice: a publick case

  1. “Don’t punish me; I’m a girl! I gotta have my career!”

    So, abuse by a previous boyfriend is carte blanche for violence against future ones.

    No man would get away with such arguments, of course…

    • Not quite true in NZ at least. Rugby skills seem to rate highly in the court’s eyes and the consequences of violence can be overlooked if you would need to travel overseas and a conviction for, say, unprovoked assault on men and women in Wellington causing significant and permanent damage to at least one of the victims would complicate that.

      • Or if you are the son of a politician. However, the local medical council has a fairly bleak view of such.

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