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Locum handed six-month suspension after ‘wholly unnecessary’ vaginal exam

A fitness-to-practise (FtP) hearing has found that a locum pharmacist working in a GP practice made “serious failings” when he undertook an “invasive intimate examination” that was not “clinically justified” and he was not “competent” to provide. 

A “locum clinical pharmacist” has been given a six-month suspension for performing an "internal vaginal examination” on a patient, despite it being “neither clinically justified” nor he “qualified [or] competent to do so”, the regulator revealed.

Mr Muhammad Farooq, registration number 2075074, undertook the “invasive intimate examination” on a patient who came into Hollins Grove Surgery, Blackburn, for an abdominal pain consultation, the General Pharmaceutical Council’s (GPhC) FtP committee heard at a hearing on September 4-7 2023.

Mr Farooq told the hearing that the patient, who said that she thought he was “going to examine her stomach”, was the first he had “performed a vaginal examination” on, according to the hearing document.

The pharmacist told the committee that his “knowledge of vaginal examinations came from reading about them and watching training videos”, the GPhC said.

The regulator accepted that he was “a man of good character” with an “unblemished professional record dating back 13 years” and that he took “full and personal responsibility for his actions”, had shown “remorse” and had apologised.

But it stressed that the “intimate and intrusive” examination was “outside his scope of practice as a pharmacist independent prescriber (IP)” and represented a “serious breach of trust”, causing the patient “anxiety over future treatment”.

 

Not “sexually motivated”

 

Mr Farooq “admitted all the factual allegations” of the case “at the outset” of the hearing, apart from the claim that the examination was “inherently sexual” or “sexually motivated”, the document said.

This was accepted by the regulator, which found that his “motivation at the time for the intimate examination was a false and wholly mistaken belief that an intimate examination was justified and that he was suitably qualified to carry it out”.

Both the patient and her mother stated that “they did not perceive that the registrant sought any sexual gratification from the examination”, the document said.

The committee concluded that his conduct “was not inherently sexual” or “sexually motivated” but found all the other allegations “proved by admission”, it added.

 

“Left feeling distraught”

 

But the regulator stressed that Mr Farooq’s conduct “represented a significant number of serious failings”, including that he failed to offer the patient a chaperone and to maintain her privacy and “dignity” by providing a “curtain and/or covering”.

It also found that he “failed to keep adequate records” of the consultation and “to provide adequate information to…enable [the patient] to give informed consent to the examination”.

The patient told the GPhC that she “did not know what ‘internal examination’ meant [and] only knew what the registrant was doing when he started to do it”, according to the document.

The regulator added that she “cried out in pain at the time and was left feeling distraught after the examination”.

Meanwhile, a doctor who gave evidence at the hearing said that given she was “not complaining of an acute problem in the vaginal area and she was not sexually active”, a vaginal examination was “wholly unnecessary”.

The doctor added that if it had been necessary, the examination “should have been carried out by a female GP at the surgery which would have also respected [the patient’s] cultural sensitivities”.

The patient told the regulator that she only “formed the view that the internal examination…should not have been carried out” when she received a letter dated July 29 2021 - 13 days after the consultation that took place on July 16.

The letter invited her to attend an ultrasound and “set out that a transvaginal (internal) scan would not be required if she was not sexually active”.

Mr Farooq was suspended from working at the GP practice on August 19 2021 “following a complaint received” from the patient.

 

“It has seriously affected me”

 

Mr Farooq explained that he thought the patient’s abdominal pains – which were localised to the right lower quadrant of her abdomen - were the result of “an underlying genital tract related problem”.

In his reflective statement, he “expressed regret for his inadequate consultation” - referring to his conduct as “shameful” - and accepted that due to his “failure, she had to go through pain and stress/trauma”.

“I cannot even imagine how painful/damaging it has been for her and her mother/family”, he added.

“It has seriously affected me since I knew about this complaint”, he said, adding that “he had lost confidence in his own ability to act as an advanced clinical pharmacist” and as a result “he did not intend to undertake such examinations again”.

The regulator accepted that he had “taken all reasonable steps to demonstrate that he had addressed his failings and had demonstrated a significant level of insight” and that his failings were “out of character” and “highly unlikely to be repeated”.

It considered that he had “taken remedial steps” such as attending relevant courses and “[removing] himself from the role of pharmacist independent prescriber”.

But the GPhC found that the facts of the case were “seriously sufficient to amount to misconduct” and that his failings were “wide ranging and serious in that the intimate examination…was aggravated by the registrant’s lack of competence and acting outside his scope of practice”.

It said that his fitness to practise is “impaired”, but that removal from the pharmacist register would be an “unduly punitive” sanction.

It concluded that a “six-month period of suspension reflects the seriousness of the matters found proved and adequately meets the public interest concerns identified”.

Read the determination in full here.

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