In categorising a case as gross misconduct (when considering whether to make an injunction permanent), should disciplinary allegations be considered individually and in isolation?
No, held the High Court in Ardron v Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.
The Trust had investigated allegations against the doctor of poor record keeping and failures in the care provided to a young prisoner who had later committed suicide. These included allegations that she had failed to meet the professional standards of good practice. This led to disciplinary proceedings, with the allegations categorised as gross misconduct. The issue for the High Court was whether an interlocutory injunction should be made permanent. The central question was whether it would be in breach of contract for the Trust to make the case for gross misconduct.
The investigation had been carried out under the MHPS framework (Maintaining High Professional Standards in the Modern NHS) for doctors in the NHS. In its judgment, the High Court provided a helpful and concise summary of the relevant legal principles relating to investigations under MHPS. The doctor argued that gross misconduct required either gross negligence or wilful default, and that each allegation should be looked at in isolation.
The High Court disagreed. It held that it was appropriate to take a cumulative view of the alleged failings and to look at the Trust's case as a whole. In doing so, it found that there was sufficient case to categorise this as gross misconduct, and a potential breach in the duty of trust and confidence. The case investigator did not determine any facts but only set out a prima facie case, which was yet to be tested. For that reason, the injunction would not continue.
Thanks to James English of Hempsons solicitors for preparing this case summary.