Mr Krishnakumar Pillai

Profession: Clinical scientist

Registration Number: CS19587

Hearing Type: Review Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 15/12/2020 End: 17:00 15/12/2020

Location: Virtual hearing - Video conference

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: No further action

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Allegation

While registered as a Clinical Scientist with the Health and Care Professions Council:

  1. On or around 28 January 2018, while enrolled on the Postgraduate Diploma in Leadership in the Healthcare Sciences at Alliance Manchester Business School, you:
  2. Submitted an assignment which identified an 88% similarity index to sources previously submitted to higher education institutions and available on the internet.
  3. Failed to cite the sources used in your assignment within the bibliography of the assignment and/or in the body of the work itself.
  4. In April 2018, submitted an Originality Report purportedly created by Turnitin in respect of the assignment submitted in January 2018, which was not genuine.
  5. The matters set out in paragraphs 1-2 are dishonest.
  6. The matters set out in paragraphs 1-3 constitute misconduct.
  7. As a result of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters


  1. The HCPC made an application for any matters of a personal or health nature to be discussed in private in a discrete part of the proceedings. At this stage the HCPC had no intention of making reference to any personal or health issues but should there be any reference made by the Registrant or questions from the Panel it was submitted that these should be in private session. The Registrant agreed with this application. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor and considered the relevant HCPTS practice note on conducting matters in private.
    2. The Panel was aware that as a starting point all hearings should be held in public. Where there are overriding considerations only then should that public interest in hearings held in open session be overridden. The HCPC rules provide the Panel with a discretion to consider such issues of a personal or health nature in private. The right to a private life is enshrined in Human Rights legislation. The Panel gave this matter careful consideration and agreed the application to hear any matters of a personal or health nature in private.
    Background
    3. The Registrant is, and was at the material time, working as Professional Lead for Cardiac Physiology, in the Heart Investigation Unit at Birmingham Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (the Trust). He was admitted to the Clinical Scientist part of the HCPC Register in 2016.
    4. In the 2017/2018 academic year the Registrant was enrolled on a Postgraduate Diploma in Leadership and Management in the Healthcare Sciences (the PG Dip) at The University of Manchester (the University). The PG Dip was one component of a doctoral-level Higher Specialist Scientist Training (HSST) Programme.
    5. A requirement of the PG Dip was that a 4,000-word essay entitled, “Who am I? Knowing and reflecting on self”, was to be submitted. The assignment was due to be submitted by 14:00 on 29 January 2018.
    6. At 12:29 on 28 January 2018 the Registrant submitted his assignment essay. It was submitted to the University via an online facility known as Turnitin. A feature of Turnitin is that it undertakes an assessment of work submitted to assess its originality. The Registrant’s assignment recorded an 88% similarity index to material previously submitted to higher educational institutions.
    7. In early March 2018 the Registrant was informed that an issue had been flagged by Turnitin. His response was that he had not plagiarised, and he stated that he had put his assignment through a spellcheck, something that he suggested may have caused the Turnitin report.
    8. At 12:33 on 12 April 2018 the Registrant was sent an email telling him that a meeting had been arranged for 16 April 2018 in relation to the suspected malpractice.
    9. At 22:19 on 12 April 2018 the Registrant submitted to the University a document which purported to be a “Turnitin Originality Report” dated 26 January 2018 which claimed that the similarity of the assignment was in fact 3%.
    10. At the University’s malpractice hearing held on 8 June 2018, the Registrant was asked if he admitted the allegation of academic malpractice. He stated that he admitted plagiarism.
    11. At the final hearing on the 16 and 17 March 2020 the Registrant had admitted the allegation. The Registrant had given evidence and in the final hearing panel’s view some of his replies were considered evasive. The Registrant had been emotional at times, and although he admitted the HCPC’s case, on occasions he sought to present excuses for his behaviour.
    12. The Registrant had called two witnesses:
    • VB had provided the final hearing Panel with evidence as to the Registrant’s exemplary professional performance, something of which he had direct personal knowledge. He also confirmed that he was contemporaneously aware that the Registrant had been experiencing difficulties in his personal life at the time relevant to the events underpinning the HCPC’s allegation. The final hearing panel found it significant that this witness twice described the Registrant as a very ambitious clinician.
    • The Registrant’s further witness, a Clinical Scientist and Lead Healthcare Scientist employed by the Trust, had provided the final hearing panel with positive evidence about the Registrant’s professional work and also stated that he was surprised by the actions which resulted in this case being brought as he had never demonstrated similar traits.
    13. The Registrant had placed before the final hearing panel other written testimonial evidence, including a reference from his line manager, a Cardiac Services Manager, who had found the Registrant to be totally trustworthy and honest and had never had any reason to question those aspects over the past ten years.
    14. The final hearing Panel considered all the evidence and found all factual particulars 1(a), 1(b) and 2 proven. In relation to particular 3 the final hearing panel noted the personal health issues and other factors of a personal nature that were impacting on the Registrant at that time. However, the fact remained that at the same time the Registrant had been working clinically to a high level and was continuing to manage a department of 16 people. Accordingly, the final hearing panel was satisfied that the negative factors had not robbed the Registrant of the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, and that he did in fact know that what he was doing was wrong. He knew that he could have applied to the University for extra time due to mitigating circumstances, but he made a conscious decision not to do so because, having made such an application in the past, he did not want to be perceived as failing. The final hearing panel had found particular 3, dishonesty, proven.
    15. The final hearing panel had concluded that the Registrant’s actions when viewed individually were serious and when viewed cumulatively they become more serious because they had spanned a period of well over two months and included a period when the Registrant could have admitted that he had behaved inappropriately in submitting the plagiarised assignment. Instead, the Registrant had persisted in maintaining that he had done nothing wrong. The final hearing panel considered the Registrant’s actions had been designed to increase his professional status as the HSST qualification was one that was directly related to his professional work and HCPC registration as it would have enabled him to apply for a Consultant level post. Had that qualification been achieved it would have enabled the Registrant to gain considerably, not only potentially financially, but also in terms of responsibility by being able to run clinics on his own.
    16. The final hearing panel had concluded that there had been breaches of the HCPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics, relating to honesty and trust and was satisfied that fellow professionals would regard the Registrant’s behaviour to have been deplorable. The seriousness of the Registrant’s actions justifies the categorisation of the findings as misconduct.
    • In relation to the issue of impairment on the personal component of its decision, the final hearing panel made the following observations:
    17. ‘The Registrant has admitted the particulars and has shown some insight into the effect of his behaviour on others, including colleagues, fellow professionals and the authors of the plagiarised work. He has also shown remorse. However, at the same time there has been a tendency on the part of the Registrant to seek to explain or excuse his behaviour and also to stress the negative consequences of his behaviour on himself. In the judgement of the Panel, dishonesty is not something that is remediable, or at least easily so, and that fact, coupled with the incomplete insight shown by the Registrant results in there being more than a negligible risk of repetition. For that reason the Panel finds that it is necessary to say that there is current impairment of fitness to practise so far as the personal component is concerned.’
    18. So far as the public component is concerned, the final hearing panel stated: ‘The Panel is satisfied that the position is very clear. Fair-minded members of the public would be dismayed were the findings made by the Panel not to result in a finding of impairment of fitness to practise. Furthermore, the Panel would be failing to declare and uphold proper professional standards were such a finding not to be made, and other professionals tempted to act dishonestly would not be sufficiently deterred. In short, public confidence in the profession of Clinical Scientists and the regulation of that profession would be undermined without a finding of current impairment of fitness to practise. For all these reasons that finding is made in respect of the public component.’
    19. The final hearing panel, as part of its consideration of sanction, had identified the following relevant factors in favour of the Registrant:
    • The apology and remorse he has expressed.
    • Full admissions of the allegation.
    • A previous unblemished career.
    • The fact that the Registrant is an excellent clinician.
    • The fact that there were some health and personal issues at the time of the relevant actions, albeit that these factors do not excuse those actions.
    20. The final hearing panel had discounted taking no further action, imposition of a Caution and so far as a conditions of practice order is concerned, considered that conditions were not appropriate to address a finding of dishonesty, and, where there are no clinical performance issues.
    21. The final hearing panel considered that a suspension order was appropriate and in its judgment was required to underscore just how serious the Registrant’s actions should be considered. The final hearing panel considered that the shortest period of suspension that was required for this purpose was nine months and went on to observe:
    ‘… the making of a suspension order for a period of nine months might have serious consequences for the Registrant. However, such is the importance of maintaining confidence and declaring and upholding proper professional standards, the Panel is satisfied that its public duty requires it to impose a suspension order to mark the seriousness of its findings.’
    ‘The Registrant should be aware that the suspension order made today will be reviewed before it expires. The Panel is conscious of the fact that it is usual when a suspension order is imposed for suggestions to be made by the panel imposing it as to the steps that a registrant would be advised to take for the purposes of the future review of that order. To be clear, this suspension order is being made not so much because the present Panel expects there to be a discernable change in circumstances at the end of the period of suspension; the primary reason for the imposition of this suspension order is that no lesser sanction would properly reflect the seriousness of the dishonesty found. However, the Registrant might wish to consider satisfying the future reviewing panel that he has further developed his insight into the consequences for others of his actions.’
    Evidence before this Panel
    22. The Registrant had provided the Panel with a small bundle of documents which contained a personal statement, 3 letters and 2 character references. All were from professional colleagues.
    23. The Registrant’s statement confirms that he has continued to work for the Trust and although he offered his resignation his employer and team considered that his leadership skills were still required, particularly at this time of a world pandemic. In his statement he acknowledged that he now fully appreciates the value of probity in any profession but especially in health care where it involves patients and their safety. He accepts that previously he had not shown adequate insight into his actions, actions which were indefensible and for which he now takes full responsibility. As part of his process of gaining insight he has conducted many difficult conversations with colleagues and has gained a deeper perspective into his actions. The full realisation that he had let his colleagues and his profession down as well as himself has made him truly humble.
    24. The supporting letters and references all demonstrated knowledge of the circumstances that had led to the Registrant’s suspension. They attested to his good qualities as a practitioner and team leader and to the efforts he had made to be open and transparent about his misconduct.
    Submissions
    25. The Registrant took an affirmation and presented his written statement orally. The similar terms of his statement in written form was before the Panel within the Registrant’s bundle that is referred to above in new evidence. In his oral presentation the Registrant was considered in what he was saying and at one stage, when he mentioned the support he had received from his colleagues he became emotional. He emphasised the impact the HCPC process has had, not only on him, but his family and colleagues. He stated that he now knows how badly he has let others down by his actions. He had found open discussion within his workplace difficult but helpful in gaining insight into his actions. The Registrant asked for an opportunity to go back into his profession.
    26. The Registrant confirmed to the Panel that he had removed all reference to his qualification and registration with the HCPC. His employers, in line with their Compliance Policy, had appointed a deputy to oversee his work so that it was certain that the Registrant did not stray into any action or consideration which would require his registration. There was one on one regular review, monitoring and discussion of his work. He stated again how supportive his colleagues had been in helping with his personal reflection.
    27. The HCPC emphasised that in the case of a review the burden is upon a registrant to identify the ways in which they have rectified the failings in their conduct. The HCPC stated that in the light of the clarification which the Registrant has given on how his practice had changed and been restricted to denote and reflect his suspension, the HCPC had no issues arising from the Registrant’s evidence of compliance. The HCPC emphasised that it was for the Panel to consider whether the Registrant had demonstrated sufficient contrition, remorse, insight and regret. On this topic the HCPC was neutral but in fairness to the Registrant had reminded the Panel of the references before them which attest to the Registrant’s practise and personal qualities.
    Legal Advice
    28. The Legal Assessor reminded the Panel that its purpose today was to conduct a comprehensive review to determine if the Registrant is fit to return to unrestricted practice. She reminded the Panel that its role was not to conduct a rehearing of the allegations nor was it to go behind the previous findings. She advised that in carrying out this assessment, the Panel must exercise its own independent judgment.
    29. If the evidence before the Panel is sufficient to show that there has been full remediation and full insight gained such that there is little or no likelihood of a repetition of the misconduct the Panel may come to the conclusion that there is no continuing impairment and in such situation that Panel may allow the current order to lapse on the 14 January 2021.
    30. If, however, the Panel determined that the Registrant’s fitness to practise remained impaired, then the Panel must go on to consider what restriction, if any, should be imposed. She also advised the Panel that it should bear in mind the principles of fairness and proportionality and have regard to the Sanctions Policy document issued by the HCPTS. She reminded the Panel that any order that it makes under Article 30 should not be punitive in purpose, and that it should be the least restrictive order that would suffice to protect the public and/or would otherwise be in the public interest.
    Decision
    31. The Panel accepted the advice of the Legal Assessor. It took into account the parties’ submissions and written representations and evidence when making its decision. The Panel has, as advised, referred to the guidance issued by the HCPTS.
    32. The Panel started by considering whether there had been compliance with the Substantive Suspension Order. The Panel noted that this was an unusual case where the Registrant has been able to continue to work using his knowledge and skills but not his registration. The Panel has therefore been required to focus on whether there has been any opportunity for the Registrant to transgress the boundary between the work he is able to undertake with his employers’ assistance in a technician capacity, and those duties and tasks which have previously required his clinical assessment skills and registration.
    33. The Registrant told the Panel that he is currently working with a deputy who effectively supervises his work. The Registrant is now assisting doctors in cardiology theatre for diagnostic purposes. The information supplied by his colleagues support this evidence that whilst the Registrant has been able to continue to work within his chosen field, his role and duties have been restricted to comply with his suspension. The Panel was therefore able to conclude that there has been compliance.
    34. The Panel then moved on to consider whether any concerns remain about the Registrant’s fitness to practise. Whilst the Panel accepted that dishonesty is a difficult, if not impossible issue to resolve, consideration is required of whether and to what degree the Registrant’s actions were capable of remedy, whether there has been remediation, and therefore whether going forward, there was any likelihood of a repetition of the previous misconduct.
    35. In this regard the Panel took into account the letters and references from colleagues which attest to the fact that the Registrant has been open and honest about his previous misconduct and taken the opportunity to counsel colleagues not to do the same. The Panel has noted the insight the Registrant has gained into his dishonest acts and his previous lack of awareness of its impact on others. The Panel accepts that the Registrant’s current level of insight into his misconduct is complete.
    36. The Panel considers that the Registrant has demonstrated through his interaction with colleagues over the last nine months, and his personal testimony before this Panel, true remorse, apology and regret for his actions. The Panel has accepted that the Registrant is unlikely to ever commit the dishonest act again. Given the repercussions and impact these proceedings have had and will continue to have on his career going forward, the Panel is of the view that it is highly unlikely that the Registrant would ever do something that would put his registration into jeopardy again.
    37. Having identified that there is little likelihood of repetition, and in the light of the full insight gained by the Registrant into his misconduct as well as his genuine remorse and apology, the Panel has concluded that there is no current and continuing impairment on the personal component of its decision.
    38. The Panel then considered whether there remained any concerns from the perspective of the wider public. The Panel appreciated that there was in fact a public interest in ensuring that good practitioners are retained to provide professional services to the public. The Panel has before it clear evidence that the Registrant is considered by his employer and colleagues to be a good, respected and trusted practitioner. The impact of these HCPC proceedings has had an adverse impact on the Registrant and going forward will remain with him as a mark and reminder of his previous misconduct. Whilst the Registrant has had the benefit of working whilst suspended the necessity to continue working with colleagues and fully disclose and discuss his previous misconduct may arguably have been harder for him than serving a period of suspension in isolation. Having to work in this way may though have provided the benefit of a greater degree of insight and understanding than the Registrant would have otherwise gained.
    39. The Registrant’s dishonesty had not put any patient or colleague in danger. The major impact of his actions has been on the Registrant’s reputation and registration, matters which will remain with him forever. The Panel is of the view that a member of the public, in full knowledge of all the facts, would consider that the Registrant has been punished enough. The Panel has therefore concluded that on the public component of its decision there is no current impairment.
    40. Having reached this decision that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is no longer impaired on the personal and the public components the Panel has concluded that the current suspension order will lapse on 14 January 2021.

Order

The existing Order will lapse on 14 January 2021

Notes

No notes available

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Krishnakumar Pillai

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
15/12/2020 Conduct and Competence Committee Review Hearing No further action