Mr Krishnakumar Pillai

Profession: Clinical scientist

Registration Number: CS19587

Hearing Type: Final Hearing

Date and Time of hearing: 10:00 16/03/2020 End: 17:00 19/03/2020

Location: Health and Care Professions Tribunal Service, 405 Kennington Road, London, SE11 4PT

Panel: Conduct and Competence Committee
Outcome: Suspended

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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:

a. Submitted an assignment which identified an 88% similarity index to sources previously submitted to higher education institutions and available on the internet.

b. Failed to cite the sources used in your assignment within the bibliography of the assignment and/or in the body of the work itself.

2. In April 2018, submitted an Originality Report purportedly created by Turnitin in respect of the assignment submitted in January 2018, which was not genuine.

3. The matters set out in paragraphs 1-2 are dishonest.

4. The matters set out in paragraphs 1-3 constitute misconduct.

5. As a result of your misconduct, your fitness to practise is impaired.

Finding

Preliminary Matters

1. The Panel has been convened to undertake the final hearing of the HCPC’s allegation against the Registrant, Mr Krishnakumar Pillai, a Clinical Scientist.  The Registrant attended the hearing.

2. At the commencement of the hearing the HCPC applied to amend the factual particulars of the allegation.  The terms of the proposed amendment were communicated to the Registrant by a letter dated 21 October 2019.  The Registrant did not oppose the application.  The Panel considered that the case advanced by the proposed amendment was appropriate in the sense that it accorded with the evidence contained in the documents that had been provided to the Panel in advance of the hearing, that it was consistent with the “case to answer” decision of the Investigating Committee, and that the proposed amended case presented no risk of prejudice to the Registrant.  Accordingly, the Panel acceded to the HCPC’s application to amend the factual particulars.  The allegation appearing at the head of this determination is the amended version.

3. When invited to respond to the allegation as amended, the Registrant stated that he admitted the factual particulars advanced by particulars 1(a) & (b), 2 and 3.

4. Before the Presenting Officer opened the case the Panel acknowledged that documents submitted by the Registrant in advance of the hearing contained references to his health.  The Panel stated that if it was desired to discuss health issues or other confidential family matters, the party intending to introduce that topic should inform the Panel so consideration could be given to a direction that the mention should be given in private.

Background

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. A requirement of the PG Dip was that a 4,000-word essay set by the Business School and 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. At 12:33 on 12 April 2018 the Registrant was sent an email telling him that in relation to the suspected malpractice a meeting had been arranged for 16 April 2018.

11. 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%.

12. 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.

Decision on Facts

13. The HCPC called two witnesses to give evidence before the Panel:

• Mr JW, a Senior Field Account Manager employed by Turnitin, gave his evidence by video link.  The Panel was satisfied that Mr JW gave clear and credible evidence concerning Turnitin, in particular about what were, and what were not, genuine documents produced by Turnitin.  In some respects Mr JW speculated about matters, but he was clear in indicating that he had speculated.

• Ms VM, an employee of the University, who at the time was working as the Programme Manager for the PG Dip.  The Panel found Ms VM to be a credible witness who was clear about what she did, and did not, know and remember.

14. The Registrant gave evidence on his own behalf and called two witnesses, one at the hearing before the Panel, and another by telephone:

• So far as the Registrant is concerned, the Panel found some of his replies to be evasive.  He was emotional at times, and although he admitted the HCPC’s case, on occasions he sought to present excuses for his behaviour.

• Dr VB, who supported the Registrant throughout the hearing, gave supporting evidence before the Panel.  The Panel found Dr VB to be a credible witness.  He gave 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 Panel found it to be significant that Dr VB twice described the Registrant as a very ambitious clinician.

• Mr PB, a Clinical Scientist and Lead Healthcare Scientist employed by the Trust gave evidence by telephone.  He gave 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.

• The Registrant produced other written testimonial evidence, including a reference from his line manager, Ms BW, Cardiac Services Manager.  She stated that she 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.

15. It has already been stated that at the commencement of the case, the Registrant admitted the factual particulars advanced by the HCPC.  However, the Panel did not decide the case on the basis of these admissions, but rather considered the totality of the evidence as to whether the Registrant’s admissions at the hearing should be accepted.  Accordingly, the Panel considered whether the HCPC had satisfied the burden of proof on the balance of probabilities.

Particular 1(a) – On or around 28 January 2018, while enrolled on the Postgraduate Diploma in Leadership and Management in the Healthcare Sciences at Alliance Manchester Business School, you  submitted an assignment which identified an 88% similarity index to sources previously submitted to higher education institutions and available on the internet.

16. The documentary exhibits presented to the Panel included, at pages D7-23, a copy of the assignment submitted by the Registrant annotated by the Turnitin similarity check.  Also included at pages D24-26 was the Turnitin similarity index report showing the 88% similarity.  The evidence of Ms VM was that the University set Turnitin to generate the similarity reports only after the deadline for submission and also in a manner that did not allow students to view the similarity reports.

17. The Panel is satisfied that the assignment was submitted as alleged in particular 1(a) and that it generated a similarity report of 88%.

Particular 1(b) – On or around 28 January 2018, while enrolled on the Postgraduate Diploma in Leadership and Management in the Healthcare Sciences at Alliance Manchester Business School, you failed to cite the sources used in your assignment within the bibliography of the assignment and/or within the body of the work itself.

18. Of the 13 sources that resulted in the score of 88% similarity, 11 were student sources.  The Panel is satisfied on the basis of the documentary evidence, the evidence of Ms VM and by the Registrant’s admission, that these student sources were not cited by the Registrant.

19. Paragraph 1(b) is proven.

Particular 2 – in April 2018, submitted an Originality Report purportedly created by Turnitin in respect of the assignment submitted in January 2018, which was not genuine.

20. The Originality Report purportedly dated 26 January 2018 sent by the Registrant to Ms SA, an Assessment Administrator at the University, on 12 April 2018 was included in the documentary exhibits at pages D176-186.  The Panel accepted the evidence of Mr JW that this document did not have the appearance of a Originality Report that would have been produced by Turnitin UK.  Had the Originality Report been genuine it would have had the appearance of the specimen produced by Mr JW at pages D192-194.

21. Having regard to the evidence of Ms VM as to the submission of the document by the Registrant on 12 April 2018, the copy email sent by the Registrant to Ms SA of that date at page D175 and the evidence of Mr JW as to the genuineness of the document submitted by the Registrant, the Panel finds particular 2 to be proven.

Particular 3 – The matters set out in paragraphs 1-2 are dishonest.

22. The Panel approached the decision it has been required to make about dishonesty by first deciding the subjective issue of the actual state of the Registrant’s knowledge and belief when he took the steps in January 2018 and April 2018 that are said to have been dishonest.  Having made that determination, the task for the Panel has then had to assess whether by the standards of ordinary decent people his actions would be considered to have been dishonest.

23. The Panel accepts that at the material time there were health issues and other factors of a personal nature that were impacting on the Registrant.  However, the fact remains that at the same time he was working clinically to a high level and was continuing to manage a department of 16 people.  Accordingly, the Panel is satisfied that the negative factors did not rob 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 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 Panel has no hesitation in finding that ordinary decent people would categorise his behaviour as dishonest.

24. Particular 3 is proven.

Decision on Grounds

25. The Panel finds that the Registrant’s actions when viewed individually were serious.  When viewed cumulatively they become more serious because they span a period of well over two months and included a period when he could have admitted that he had behaved inappropriately in submitting the plagiarised assignment.  Instead, he persisted in maintaining that he had done nothing wrong.  His actions were 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.

26. The Panel finds that the Registrant’s actions amounted to the following breaches of Standard 9 (“Be honest and trustworthy”) of the HCPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics, namely:

• Standard 9.1, “You must make sure that your conduct justifies the public’s trust and confidence in you and your profession.”

• Standard 9.2, “You must be honest about your experience, qualifications and skills.”

27. Having regard to all the relevant factors the Panel is satisfied that fellow professionals would regard the Registrant’s behaviour to have been deplorable.  The seriousness of them justifies the categorisation of the findings as misconduct.

Decision on Impairment 

28. As required, the Panel has considered both the personal and public components relevant to current impairment of fitness to practise.

29. So far as the personal component is concerned, it is fair to record that this is a case that does not involve clinical shortcomings.  The Registrant’s professional skills are not brought into doubt.  However, it is still necessary for the Panel to consider whether there is a risk of repetition of dishonest behaviour in a context related to professional performance.  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.

30. So far as the public component is concerned, 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.

31. The finding that the Registrant’s fitness to practise is currently impaired has the consequence that the allegation is well founded.  The Panel must therefore proceed to consider the issue of sanction.

Decision on Sanction

32. After announcing the Panel’s decision on the allegation, the Panel heard submissions on sanction.

33. On behalf of the HCPC, the Presenting Officer made it clear that the HCPC did not positively seek any particular sanction, submitting that it was a matter for the Panel’s judgement.  He also urged the Panel to have regard to the HCPC’s Sanctions Policy. He directed the Panel to the section in that document where dishonesty is considered and submitted that the authorities justified the proposition that it was proper for the Panel to consider where on the spectrum of possible dishonesty, the dishonesty found against the Registrant should be determined to lie.

34. The Registrant reminded the Panel of his unblemished career.  He also said that he was keen to continue in his profession and to make positive contributions to the lives of patients, and asked the Panel to be lenient so that he would be able to do that.

35. The Panel accepted the advice it received from the Legal Assessor as to the proper approach to the decision on sanction.  It has also heeded the advice contained in the HCPC’s Sanctions Policy.  A sanction is not to be imposed with the intention of punishing a registrant against whom findings have been made.  Rather, a sanction is only to be imposed to the extent that it is required to protect the public, to maintain a proper degree of confidence in the registered profession and to declare and uphold proper professional standards.   The first decision to be made by the Panel is whether the finding on the allegation requires any sanction at all.  If it does, then the available sanctions must be considered in an ascending order of seriousness until one that, consistent with the proper sanction goals is identified that sufficiently addresses the circumstances of the case.  As the finding in this case is one of misconduct, the entire sanction range up to, and including, striking-off is available.

36. The Panel began by assessing the aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the case.

37. The Panel considered the aggravating factors to be the seriousness of the plagiarism, the attempt to deny that it had taken place and the length of time and repeated nature of the attempts to deny what had happened.

38. In favour of the Registrant it is fair to record the following matters:

• 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.

39. The Panel first considered whether the findings required the imposition of any sanction at all.  In the judgement of the Panel the findings it has made and in particular the finding of dishonesty, are far too serious to result in no further order.

40. In view of the Panel’s findings, a caution order would not be appropriate because it would not reflect the seriousness of the findings.

41. So far as a conditions of practice order is concerned, the Panel is of the view that conditions are not appropriate to address a finding of dishonesty, and, as already stated, there are no clinical performance issues in this case.

42. Accordingly, the Panel next considered whether a suspension order is appropriate.  In the view of the Panel the circumstances require the imposition of a suspension order.  In the judgement of the Panel, a suspension order is required to underscore just how serious the Registrant’s actions should be considered.  The Panel considers that the shortest period of suspension that is required for this purpose is nine months.

43. The Panel acknowledges that 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.

44. The Panel tested the appropriateness of a suspension order by considering whether a striking-off order should be made.  In the judgement of the Panel, although the case is a serious one, the circumstances do not reach the threshold where it could be said that striking-off is required.  Furthermore, the evidence received by the Panel was that the Registrant is a first-rate clinician, and it would not be in the wider public interest to permanently remove the Registrant from being able to carry on offering a high level of care.

45. 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.

Order

The Registrar is directed to suspend the registration of Krishnakumar Pillai for a period of 9 months from the date this Order comes into effect.

Notes

The Panel makes an Interim Suspension Order under Article 31(2) of the Health Professions Order 2001, the same being 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.

Reasons for making an Interim Suspension Order

1. The Panel is satisfied that it was appropriate to consider the making of interim order because the Registrant had been informed in the notice of hearing letter dated 22 November 2019 that in the event of the Panel making a substantive suspension order, an application for an interim order might be considered.

2. The Panel approached the decision on whether an interim order should be made by accepting that the default position established by the legislation is that when a substantive sanction is imposed, there should be no interference with the registrant’s right to practise while his or her appeal rights remain extant.  It follows that positive reasons must be established to justify an interim order to cover the period while appeal rights remain extant.  Those reasons are to be measured by reference to the three grounds that can justify the making of an interim order, namely (i) that it is necessary for protection of members of the public, and/or (ii) that it is otherwise in the public interest, and/or (iii) that it is in the registrant’s own interests.  If one or more of those grounds is established, then the Panel must consider whether an interim conditions of practice order would be a sufficient response if conditions of practice are appropriate then an order of conditions must be made. If conditions are not appropriate then an interim suspension order must be made

3. The Panel is satisfied that for the reasons explained in relation to the substantive suspension order, an interim order is required in the public interest.  Public confidence would be seriously diminished were there to be no restriction placed on the Registrant’s ability to practise in the light of the serious findings made by the Panel.

4. The Panel considered whether there were any conditions of practice that could be imposed on an interim basis that would address the reasons why an interim order is required. There are no conditions of practice that would be appropriate.  Accordingly, an interim order of suspension is required.

5. The Panel considered that the interim order should be made for the maximum period of 18 months.  The interim order will automatically fall away if no appeal against the Panel’s decision and order is made within the period allowed for such an appeal to be made.  If the Registrant does appeal, that appeal could take 18 months to be finally resolved.

Hearing History

History of Hearings for Mr Krishnakumar Pillai

Date Panel Hearing type Outcomes / Status
16/03/2020 Conduct and Competence Committee Final Hearing Suspended