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BMJ
Psychiatrist who saw patients after being told to stop practising is struck off
By Clare Dyer
December 15, 2017

Psychiatrist Brian Harris

Psychiatrist Brian Harris

A former consultant psychiatrist who ignored an order from the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service to stop practising while under investigation for misconduct has been struck off the UK medical register.

Brian Harris, 77, of south Wales, came under investigation by the General Medical Council in October 2013 after being arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting male patients. In November 2013 an interim orders panel of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service imposed an 18 month suspension on him.

Because his case took years to come to court his suspension was reviewed every few months, and each decision to extend it was communicated to Harris by letter. These letters came with acknowledgment slips, some of which Harris signed and returned.

Harris finally appeared in Merthyr Crown Court last March, charged with 13 counts of sexual assault, indecent assault, and rape involving five male patients. He was acquitted on 12 of these charges but convicted of one count of sexual assault. He has been given permission to appeal against that conviction and has not yet been sentenced.

There was no charge relating to his conviction, however, before the medical practitioners tribunal that heard the case against him this month. In 2015 a GP with a patient who was also seeing Harris checked the psychiatrist’s registration, found it suspended, and reported him to the GMC.

GMC investigators found five patients who provided evidence of attending 16 appointments with Harris between December 2013 and December 2014. None had been notified of his suspension. “If I had knowledge that Dr Harris had been suspended I would not have sought medical care and treatment from him,” said one witness in a statement.

Harris, who had previously been medical director of the Cardiff Community Trust and later a consultant at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, was by this stage working in private practice and was paid by the patients for their visits. One patient’s wife recalled paying cash and said that she was not given a receipt.

A GMC spokesperson said its practice was to await the outcome of any criminal process before bringing a charge that was based on a conviction. In Harris’s case the process was still unfinished because he had not yet been sentenced.

But allegations that he had breached his suspension had come to light during the investigation. “These allegations were considered sufficiently serious that the doctor should be referred to a medical practitioners tribunal hearing on these concerns alone, because there was a realistic prospect he would be erased by the panel, which he was.”

In a written statement to the tribunal Harris apologised and admitted bringing the profession into disrepute.

“I am heartily ashamed of my actions, which arose out of my wish to do the best for my patients. Of course, I now accept that this was irresponsible and that I should not have continued to see those patients,” he wrote. “I am ashamed and am disappointed that my career will end on this note and with these admissions.”

Harris, who is now retired, initially sought to remove himself from the register voluntarily. But the tribunal ruled that the matters before it were sufficiently serious to require an examination of the facts.

Harris had shown some insight into the effect of his actions on patients and the profession, said the tribunal’s chairman, Alexander Jacobs, but “there appears to be no clear regard for the impact of his actions on the regulator and its processes.”

Erasure, he said, “would send a clear message to the public and the profession that such conduct is not appropriate or compatible with continued registration.”