x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Officials to investigate physicians' histories

Emirate's health authority will overhaul its licensing programme as it monitors the trial of a GP who allegedly killed a UK patient.

DUBAI // Health officials revealed plans to conduct background checks and verify the licence of every medical professional working in the emirate. The announcement coincides with the trial in the UK this week of a Dubai-based doctor accused of killing a patient by giving him the wrong medication. The Dubai Health Authority (DHA) said it would follow closely the criminal case against Dr Mitra Nikkhah, who was apparently practising in Dubai a month after she was charged in the UK. It has already suspended Dr Nikkhah's licence and said it would take further action against her if necessary.

The DHA said it had been planning the background checks before Dr Nikkhah's case came to light. The checks are to include examining employment records. They will be incorporated in a four-year overhaul of the emirate's healthcare system begun in June, under which about 15,000 medical professionals will be required to reapply for their licences. Dr Nikkhah, 41, was working as a locum GP in a health centre in Plymouth, England, in May 2006 when she allegedly prescribed penicillin to an elderly patient, despite being told he was allergic to the drug.

The patient, David Townsend, 73, went into anaphylactic shock and died, the Plymouth Crown Court heard at the start of her trial on Monday. Dr Nikkhah pleaded not guilty to a charge of manslaughter caused by gross negligence in her first appearance before the court in June. After she was charged in February, the General Medical Council (GMC), which registers doctors in the UK, filed an interim order against Dr Nikkhah that restricted her right to practise medicine while a panel investigated her fitness as a physician. The order also stated that she was required to inform the UK governing body of any plans to work outside Britain.

However, she apparently did not do so, which meant the GMC was unable to contact the Dubai authority, as is usual practice. Dr Essa Kazim, the director of DHA health regulation, said the background checks and verifying of licences would help prevent similar situations from arising. Dr Kazim said the DHA would specifically be looking for anything in the backgrounds of incoming medical professionals that would prevent them from receiving licences to work in Dubai. Similar background checks will be conducted on professionals who are already working in health care.

"We have two main roles: one is protecting the public, and the other is ensuring good patient care. This is the reason for doing this," he said. Regarding Dr Nikkhah's case, he added: "We are going to suspend her licence based on the GMC conditions of the interim order. We have already spoken to the GMC recently about working more closely." Dr Kazim noted that health regulators had previously dealt with the GMC on the case of a doctor who was struck off in the UK and came to work in Dubai. "The information he had given us to get his Dubai licence obviously did not include the information that he had been struck off and then had a further registration application denied," he said. "An official at the General Medical Council contacted us and sent us all the information, we took action and he was struck off." Dr Nikkhah trained in Romania and moved in 2001 to Britain, where she qualified as a locum GP three years later. She practised in Plymouth, on the south-west coast of England, before moving to Dubai. She registered with the emirate's licensing department last year. She transferred to another clinic in Dubai in March, a month after she was charged with manslaughter. The GMC imposed the restrictions on her in February, and renewed them after a review in August. They are to remain in place until next August. The DHA said its legal office was confident there were sufficient grounds to suspend her licence. Her trial is expected to last about a week. On Monday, the court was told how the patient's wife, Joan Townsend, had told Dr Nikkhah that her husband could not receive penicillin but the GP prescribed the drug anyway since she was unable to find any record of the allergy on his computerised record. The prosecutor, Phillip Mott, said after the patient suffered a reaction in 1986, a warning was placed on Mr Townsend's paper medical records, but that the information never made it to the electronic version. He called the omission "unfortunate". The DHA announced earlier this week that its regulatory arm would work with the Department of Health and Medical Services to oversee all licensing and regulation, which was previously undertaken by the department alone. munderwood@thenational.ae