Chapter 6: The General Medical Council
Other points raised by the GMC’s handling of its investigations
The documents show some limited consideration given to the position of Professor Christopher Bulstrode, a former GMC Council member. Professor Bulstrode is Dr Barton’s brother. At a meeting on 18 May 2009 between the GMC and FFW, among the items discussed was the “Issue with Dr Barton’s brother being a former Council member – we agreed this is unlikely to be of any significance and agreed to clarify exactly who has confirmed this” (GMC000802, p19).
On 30 January 2010, Charles Stewart-Farthing, a family member, sent an email to the GMC, expressing his disgust and dissatisfaction that Dr Barton had not been removed from the register. In the email, he said: “The allegations of nepotism regarding her brother being a member of the GMC, to be found on the internet, would appear to have foundation, so what is going on?” (GMC100129, p42).
The response sent to Mr Stewart-Farthing dealt with other parts of his email, but not the request for information about Dr Barton’s brother. This was, perhaps, because Mr Swain had sent an internal email which said: “I wouldn’t bother replying to the references to her brother. There isn’t a serious suggestion of foul play, only passing references to unsubstantiated assertions” (GMC100129, p41).
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Mrs Reeves, on 28 January 2011, the Information Access Officer for the GMC said:
“Professor Bulstrode was an elected member of Council from 1 July 2003 to 31 December 2008. Professor Bulstrode also served on the Resources Committee from September 2003 to September 2005, on the Education Committee from September 2003 to October 2008, and was a trustee of the GMC pension scheme from November 2003 to March 2008.” (GMC000346, p1)
The Information Access Officer said:
“With regards to whether Professor Bulstrode ever sat on any fitness to practise panels; I should explain that in November 2004 a decision was made by the Council to exclude any Council members from sitting on fitness to practise panels. Therefore, Professor Bulstrode would not have sat on a fitness to practise panel after November 2004. We have checked our records of sittings of the Committee on Professional Performance, the Professional Conduct Committee, the Assessment Referral Committee and the Health Committee between 1 July 2003 and 30 November 2004. I can confirm that we have no record of Professor Bulstrode having sat on any of these panels.” (GMC000346, pp1–2)
The Information Access Officer continued:
“In relation to our knowledge of the relationships between Professor Bulstrode and Dr Barton, I can confirm that the suggestion that they are related was put to our Press Office by a journalist in the summer of 2009. We were not aware of the relationship prior to this. Given that Professor Bulstrode was not a Council member at the time of the hearing, and as a Council member from 2003-2008 would have had no involvement or influence in the case, we did not pursue this.” (GMC000346, pp1–2)
One of the questions asked by Mrs Reeves was: “Did any of the fitness to practise panel know Dr Jane Barton or Professor Bulstrode personally?” (GMC000884, p4). The GMC responded: “… there would be no expectation on the panellists to declare such an association as Professor Bulstrode was in no way connected with the case. Therefore, we are not aware of whether any of the panellists knew Professor Bulstrode personally” (GMC000347, p2).
This answer did not include the additional details contained in a GMC internal email on 13 January 2011:
“I also looked at our training records to see if any of the Barton panel may have attended a training session which Prof Bulstrode would have attended in his role as a Council member. There was a training session in September 2005 which both Professor Bulstrode and Dr Roger Smith attended. As you know, however, no individual cases are discussed at training. Council members attend to talk about Council policy and future developments in general terms.” (GMC000884, p1)
Dr Roger Smith was a panellist at Dr Barton’s fitness to practise hearing.
On 31 January 2013, the GMC was asked if Professor Bulstrode had been admonished for failing to declare this interest in his sister’s case (GMC100041, p3). The GMC replied:
“I can confirm that we do have a signed copy of Professor Bulstrode’s statement of commitment to the code of conduct dated 2/6/2003 which included a section for the declaration of interests. The form does not mention Dr Jane Barton. Please note that the guidance issued in 2003 contained specific reference to the interest that should be declared … the list did not extend to specifically cover the declaration of a family association to a registered doctor. We have therefore decided that a GMC investigation is not warranted and we will not be taking further action.” (GMC100041, p6)
On 4 March, the GMC gave a further explanation:
“Clearly if a family member who was a doctor had a case coming before a Fitness to Practise panel a panellist would be required to declare an interest, but that was not what happened in Professor Bulstrode’s case. By the time his sister’s case was being considered he was no longer a Council Member and so was not obliged to declare anything.” (GMC100041, pp11–14)
The GMC was asked if Professor Bulstrode attended GMC meetings with Professor David Black. The GMC responded on 16 December 2013 to say that it had “not been able to find any records that we hold that suggest that Professor Black attended any GMC meetings with Professor Bulstrode or that Professor Black discussed the Gosport War Memorial Hospital deaths at any GMC meeting” (GMC000134).
The families had raised a legitimate question of a potential conflict of interest involving Professor Bulstrode, Dr Barton’s brother. The documents show that the issue had not been considered before it was raised by family members; and that, when it was considered, there was a lack of candour in not disclosing the evidence of a possible connection between Dr Smith, a member of the Fitness to Practise Panel, and Professor Bulstrode.