Mr Christopher Wood
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During the course of your employment as a Paramedic, you:
- On or around 07 May 2017, following an attendance on Person A in a professional capacity, obtained Person A's telephone number.
- You breached professional boundaries in that you contacted Person A in text and/or social media messages:
- between around 7 May 2017 and 30 May 2017;
- on or around 16 June 2017.
- The messages described at 2a included:
- messages of an explicit and/or sexual nature
- messages in which you offered and/or planned to meet with Person A;
- messages in which you offered and/or planned to engage in sexual activity with Person A.
- The matters described in paragraphs 1 and 2 were sexually motivated.
- The matters set out in paragraphs 1 -3 constitute misconduct.
- By reason of your misconduct your fitness to practise is impaired.
1. There were no preliminary matters
2. The Registrant was a Lead Paramedic for South West Ambulance Service Trust. Patient A was attended to at home by the Registrant on 7 May 2017 to treat a cut hand. Patient A is a vulnerable person with multiple conditions which require regular attendance upon her at home by paramedics. Following the Registrant’s attendance, he contacted Patient A on her personal mobile, a few minutes later, by text. The Registrant told the Panel that he memorised her mobile number when she gave it. The Registrant then began to send Patient A text messages some of which were of a very explicit sexual nature. The messages were sent over a number of weeks and were unwelcome. The Registrant also tried to pressurize Patient A to meet socially with him in some of the text messages. Patient A felt uncomfortable and wanted the messages to stop. She found the experience distressing. The final text was on the 16th June 2017.
3. Following a non-epileptic seizure on 17 June 2017, Patient A was subsequently visited by Peter Beazer, another Paramedic. Patient A disclosed the text conversation between herself and the Registrant.
4. Peter Beazer referred the matter to the Registrant’s employers. After a disciplinary inquiry the Registrant was dismissed.
Decision on Facts
5. The Panel read and accepted the witness statement of Patient A who described the Registrant’s visit to her home and the text messages which he subsequently sent to her, all of which were exhibited. The texts are not capable of bearing any other meaning than being sexually explicit. The texts were plainly intended to seduce Patient A into having a sexual relationship with the Registrant. The Panel also accepted the Registrant’s admissions to the charges and his complete acceptance during his evidence that he sent the messages and that his purpose in doing so was sexually motivated. The Panel found the facts proved.
Decision on Grounds
6. The Panel noted that the registrant did not dispute that the facts which he had admitted amounted to misconduct. The Panel heard submissions from Mr Millin who invited them to bear in mind the explanation of that term given by the Privy Council in the case of Roylance v GMC (No.2)  1 AC 311 where it was stated that:
“Misconduct is a word of general effect, involving some act or omission which falls short of what would be proper in the circumstances. The standard of propriety may often be found by reference to the rules and standards ordinarily required to be followed by a … practitioner in the particular circumstances. The misconduct is qualified in two respects. First, it is qualified by the word ‘professional’ which links the misconduct to the profession ... Secondly, the misconduct is qualified by the word ‘serious’. It is not any professional misconduct which will qualify. The professional misconduct must be serious.”
7. In Nandi v GMC  the Court referred to Roylance v GMC  where the Court had described misconduct as ”a falling short by omission or commission of the standards of conduct expected among medical practitioners, and such falling short must be serious” …. Such that it would be “regarded as deplorable by fellow practitioners”. .
8. In Nandi, the Court also referred to the section in Roylance v GMC  where the Court held that “the obligation to take responsibility for the care of patients does not cease simply because the [doctor] is exercising managerial or administrative functions one step removed from direct patient care. Depending upon the nature of the duties being exercised, a continuing obligation to focus on patient care may co-exist with a range of distinct administrative duties…..”
9. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
10. The Panel were in no doubt that the facts admitted and found proved in this case amounted to a serious departure of the standards expected of a paramedic. The Registrant’s conduct can properly be described as deplorable. The Registrant abused a vulnerable patient for his own sexual gratification. The Panel had no difficulty in finding the ground of misconduct.
Decision on Impairment
11. The Panel heard evidence from the Registrant who accepted that his fitness to practice was impaired at the time that he sent Patient A the text messages. It also heard from him about his remorse and the insight which he has since gained into his misconduct. The Registrant was at pains to explain his shame and his appreciation that that he had not only let down Patient A by his misconduct but had brought the profession and the HCPC into disrepute by his behaviour.
12. The Panel heard evidence from him of the courses which he has since attended including Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults, level 3, 20/8/2018 and the Fourth Day, Maintaining Professionalism, 31/10/2018. The Panel read his reflective piece which went into some detail about how he thought his misconduct had come about. The Registrant produced a number of testimonials, all from individuals with whom he works closely and who know about these allegations. They spoke of his professionalism since these incidents. The Registrant spent some time explaining what he had learned about being more aware of patients’ vulnerability and remaining focused so as not to cross boundaries. He also explained that he had allowed himself to be overwhelmed by stress and overwork as he tried to make an impression in a new and demanding role. He explained how he has now adjusted his work life balance so that he does not find himself working in a state where he cannot focus on the matter in hand and thus allow himself to deviate from the high standards of professionalism which are expected of him.
13. Sophie Waight is the Registrant’s partner and she also gave evidence. She described the pressure which the Registrant was under at the time of this misconduct and the efforts he has since made to adjust his work life balance. Ms Waight accepted that the Registrant’s misconduct had caused damage to the reputation of the paramedic profession but thought that the Registrant had ameliorated the effect of his misconduct by his efforts since.
14. Mr Millin submitted that the Registrant remains impaired. In Cheatle v GMC  EWHC 645 (Admin) Cranston J said that impairment of fitness to practise was an elusive concept. However, the learned judge did consider that the four examples given by Dame Janet Smith in her Fifth Shipman Report helpfully set out the reasons why a decision maker might conclude that a registrant was unfit to practise, or that his fitness to practise was impaired. These four examples were:
a) has in the past acted and/or is liable in the future to act so as to put a patient or patients at unwarranted risk of harm; and/or
b) has in the past brought and/or is liable in the future to bring the medical profession into disrepute; and/or
c) has in the past breached and/or is liable in the future to breach one of the fundamental tenets of the medical profession; and/or
d) has in the past acted dishonestly and/or is liable to act dishonestly in the future.
15. He submitted that a), b) and c) apply in this case.
16. Mr Millin submitted that whilst the Registrant has produced an impressive remediation bundle he has completely failed to consider the impact of his misconduct upon Patient A. When challenged in cross examination, the Registrant simply said that he had not thought it proper to contact Patient A after the allegations were made.
17. Mr Millin also reminded the Panel that in CHRE v NMC and Grant, Mrs Justice Cox held (at paragraph 74) that it was essential, when deciding whether fitness to practise was currently impaired, not to lose sight of the need to protect the public, and the need to declare and uphold proper standards of conduct and behaviour so as to maintain public confidence in the profession. A panel should consider not only whether the practitioner continues to present a risk to members of the public in his or her current role, but also whether the need to uphold professional standards and public confidence in the profession would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made.
18. The fact that the Registrant’s actions abused a vulnerable service user for his own sexual gratification, makes a finding of impairment a necessity, both in order to protect the public as well as maintaining public confidence in the profession.
19. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
20. The Panel considered with care the Registrant’s oral evidence and the bundle which he produced. The bundle included, a certificate relating to the courses on Maintaining Professionalism and Safeguarding Vulnerable Patients, his thoughts on those courses, employers’ references, current CV, a commendation, a Development Plan, a reflection on misconduct, College of Paramedics feedback on his reflective piece, patient review feedback, a personal review of patients seen and evidence of current mandatory training.
21. The Registrant has plainly worked hard at his remediation and sought input from mentors. The Registrant has been working as a Paramedic in a GP surgery and gave evidence about that and the impact of his misconduct upon his practice. The Registrant spoke at length about his commitment to the profession and his desire to help others and excel in his field. The Registrant clearly sees himself as having a vocation towards paramedical science.
22. However the Panel were concerned that he appeared to have completely overlooked the impact of his behaviour upon Patient A. Patient A is a very vulnerable adult whom the registrant exposed to a series of sexually explicit texts in which he plainly was trying to arrange a meeting so that he could seduce her. The text messages took place over a number of weeks and only ceased when Patient A drew them to the attention of Peter Beasley and the matter was reported. Patient A described how she felt that she was being taken advantage of. She described the Registrant as persistent. She was very upset by this wholly unnecessary episode.
23. The Registrant appeared to have not given thought to the impact of his misconduct upon Patient A, a vulnerable woman whom he exposed to abuse for his own sexual gratification. The Panel found this omission extremely concerning.
24. Whilst the Panel did not doubt the Registrant’s sincerity, they were concerned that he appeared to have approached remediation in a linear way and to have demonstrated no empathy for his victim.
25. The Panel considered that whilst the Registrant’s insight is impressive in some regards, it is quite lacking in this important respect. The Panel found that the Registrant’s insight is far from complete and a significant risk of repetition of his misconduct remains. The Panel therefore found that the Registrant is currently impaired by reason of his misconduct.
26. The Panel next went on to consider the public interest. The Panel concluded that a paramedic subjecting a vulnerable patient to abuse for their own sexual gratification was so serious that informed members of the public would expect a finding of impairment to mark its seriousness. The Panel therefore found that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is impaired by reason of the public interest.
Decision on Sanction
27. Mr Millin reminded the Panel of the purpose of sanction and invited their attention to the Indicative Sanctions Policy (ISP). He also reminded the Panel that the Registrant had made early admissions to the Trust and HCPC, had fully engaged with the process and had given evidence. Mr Millin reminded the Panel that it had found that the Registrant’s insight was impressive in some respects. Mr Millin referred the panel to Arunkalaivana v GMC  EWHC 873, Basson v GMC  EWC 505, GMC v. Maher Khetyar  EWHC 813, Yasmin v. GMC  EWHC 3160.
28. The Registrant referred to the ISP and the stepwise approach. He conceded that mediation was not appropriate. He submitted that he did not pose a risk to the public and that he had shown great commitment to the profession. He agreed that a Caution Order would not be appropriate. He submitted that if he was suspended he would have to take a leave of absence from his RAF role. He stated that his employment at the GP surgery would be effected, in that it would be reduced to an administrative role and so would suffer a salary reduction of £7,000 per annum. He did not think conditions were appropriate. He argued that a Suspension Order would mark the seriousness of his misconduct and allow him to reflect on the deficit in his insight. He pointed out that his misconduct was fantasy based text messages and not an actual sexual assault such as set out in the cases referred to by Mr Millin. The Registrant reminded the Panel of their finding that some of his insight was impressive. He again apologised for his misconduct. He stated that he had never behaved in this way before and that he had not repeated his misconduct. He argued that strike off would be disproportionate. He said that he was disgusted with himself having read Patient A’s statement.
29. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
30. The Panel reminded itself that this case involved the abuse of a vulnerable patient for the Registrant’s own sexual gratification.
31. The Panel began by considering whether the case could be concluded without any further action and concluded that the misconduct was too serious. Similarly a Caution Order would not reflect the seriousness of the misconduct. The Panel reminded itself that this case involved text messages and so was not a case where chaperoning could be an effective measure. The Panel considered that conditions of practice were not appropriate in this case as there were no conditions that could effectively guard against the risk in this case or serve the public interest. It also took the view that conditions of practice would not adequately mark the seriousness of the misconduct in this case.
32. The Panel considered that a Suspension Order would adequately mark the seriousness of this matter. It would enable the Registrant to focus on completing his insight into his misconduct by considering the impact of his behaviour on Patient A. The Panel considered that a six months Suspension Order would protect the public and mark the seriousness of the matter.
33. The Panel considered that a Striking Off Order would be disproportionate in this matter. It took into account the Registrant’s early and full admissions, his engagement with the process and his remorse and impressive insight in some respects of this case.
34. The next panel will be assisted when they review this matter by a detailed reflection by the Registrant setting out his insight into the impact of his behaviour on Patient A.
35. Mr Millin applied for an Interim Order of Suspension on the basis that it was necessary, in the light of the Panel’s findings on impairment and sanction. The Registrant did not oppose the making of the order.
36. The Panel heard and accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor.
37. The Panel concluded that an Interim Order of suspension was necessary to protect the public in the interim because they had concluded in the absence of complete insight by the Registrant into his misconduct there remained a significant risk of repetition.
38. The Panel makes an Interim Suspension under Article 31(2) of the Health and Social Work Professions Order 2001, the same being necessary to protect members of the public and being otherwise in the public interest. This order will expire: (if no appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) upon the expiry of the period during which such an appeal could be made; (if an appeal is made against the Panel’s decision and Order) the final determination of that appeal, subject to a maximum period of 18 months
Order: That the Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Mr Christopher Wood for a period of 6 months from the date this order comes into effect.
This order will be reviewed again before its expiry on 6 August 2019.
History of Hearings for Mr Christopher Wood
|Date||Panel||Hearing type||Outcomes / Status|
|07/01/2019||Conduct and Competence Committee||Final Hearing||Suspended|