Doctor who mistook ankle for elbow left Irish hospital with an 'excellent' reference
A doctor who has been found guilty of professional misconduct and poor performance was hired for four months in two private hospitals.
Dr Omar Hassan (30) was at the centre of a damning fitness to practise inquiry last week after working in public hospitals in Portlaoise, Mayo and Galway between 2012 and early 2014.
It has emerged that he went on to take up duty in the Bon Secours hospitals in Cork and Tralee later that year.
And in a further bizarre twist, it has also emerged that he left Mayo General Hospital in Castlebar, where he had been taken off call because of concerns about his abilities, with a glowing work reference.
The reference, which has the official stamp of Mayo General Hospital, described as "excellent" his clinical judgment, theoretical knowledge, rapport with patients, willingness to learn, work organisation, punctuality, conduct, attendance and reliability.
The reference, dated December 2013, for a doctor's locum agency - which has medics on its books who are sent to work in hospitals on a short- and long-term basis - described as "good" his practical skills and medical skills.
Dr Hassan was said to be "very pleasant and courteous" in the general comments section.
He had worked at the hospital as senior house officer, which is a junior doctor rank.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar is currently awaiting a review of the case, which has raised major questions about how a doctor, at the centre of serious concerns over potential risk to patient safety, can move freely from one hospital to another without proper checks being carried out on his performance.
The Medical Council hearing was told that Dr Hassan was taken off call in Portlaoise, Mayo and Galway hospitals after his colleagues became seriously concerned about his competence.
It heard that at one point he mistook an X-ray of an ankle for that of an elbow.
Dr Hassan, a native of Sudan, who strongly contests the allegations, confirmed to the Irish Independent that he worked in the two Bon Secours private hospitals in 2014 and that he was also offered a job contract in Our Lady's Hospital in Navan in early 2015.
He was first hired by Portlaoise Hospital in 2012 as a senior house officer on the basis of two references from surgeons in the Sudan.
Public hospitals, particularly regional hospitals, are very reliant on junior doctors from abroad to maintain medical cover and frequently have to employ doctors from agencies, at very high fees, because of recruitment difficulties.
An official complaint was not made to the doctors' regulatory body, the Medical Council, until February of last year.
It acted swiftly and secured an High Court order, suspending him from being able to work as a doctor, pending the recent fitness to practise inquiry.
Around the time the Medical Council obtained the order, Dr Hassan was offered a long-term contract in the orthopaedic department of Our Lady's Hospital in Navan but that did not go ahead.
The HSE has failed to explain how Dr Hassan was able to be hired by so many hospitals over a lengthy period of time. It said procedures for checks and balances were in place and it is now contacting the hospitals involved.
Fianna Fáil's health spokesperson Billy Kelleher has called for stricter supervision of junior doctors following the case.
He said: "The revelations in this latest case raise serious questions about the hiring policy within the HSE. This ad hoc approach cannot continue, as it seriously diminishes standards and poses a major threat to patient safety. While I acknowledge that there are staff shortages in certain parts of the country, recruitment standards cannot be allowed slip.
"Junior doctors are an integral part of the hospital system. People's lives are literally in their hands and it is paramount that their medical skills are of the highest professional standards. Their supervision is equally important and it is essential that there are appropriate processes in place to deal with concerns and complaints.
"The fact that a doctor could be employed at three separate hospitals, despite flags about his professional conduct being raised, is deeply worrying.
"The processes for monitoring misconduct and allegations of poor performance must to be immediately enhanced.
"Leo Varadkar must take responsibility for what is happening on his watch and ensure that these standards are beefed up. This is not the first such case and measures must be taken without delay to guarantee patient safety."