Justice for Debbie Westwick – Oncologist, Dr Smedley admits allegations and is found guilty of serious misconduct

Within previous Inside Story features we have highlighted the case of Debbie Westwick, a Nurse from Canterbury, who suffered substandard treatment at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital under the auspices of the Kent Oncology Centre. She is represented by Nick Fairweather.

Civil proceedings alleging negligence were settled back in 2009.

Since then, Nick and Debbie have been battling to bring the details of her case to the attention of the regulatory authorities.

Specifically, they have lodged complaints with the Trusts concerned, the Care Quality Commission and the GMC.

The GMC complaint is against Debbie’s treating Oncologist, Dr Howard Smedley.

It was lodged way back in August 2009.

After huge and wholly unsatisfactory delays, the case against Dr Smedley has finally come on for hearing in Manchester this week.

It started yesterday and was listed for 9 days.

On the first day of the hearing, however, Dr Smedley admitted all the charges brought against him, specifically failing to:-

  1. Adequately assess Debbie’s condition.

  2. Provide effective treatment based on the best available evidence; and

  3. Obtain her properly informed consent to the treatment provided.

Today, 12th June, the GMC Fitness to Practice Panel have gone on to consider whether the admitted failings amount to serious misconduct and, if so, whether Dr Smedley’s Fitness to Practice is impaired by reason of his serious misconduct.

Late this afternoon the Panel decided that Dr Smedley was guilty of serious misconduct and that his Fitness to Practice is impaired.

Tomorrow they will deal with what sanction, if any, to impose upon Dr Smedley’s registration.

Debbie commented:-

“It is such a relief to have these long protracted proceedings finally coming to a conclusion.  Despite my being terminally ill with cancer, and in a great deal of pain, the GMC refused to relocate the hearing to London.  Nor would they provide me with a private ambulance to attend the hearing due to my worsening medical condition.  I faced the prospect of having to give evidence by video link from the University of Kent.  They would not even provide facilities for me to watch the hearing despite my being the victim in all this.  I am pleased, however, at the ultimate outcome.   My aim has always been to highlight the systemic failings in the treatment that Dr Smedley gave me.  This is why I battled on, long beyond receiving compensation for myself, so that other women suffering with breast cancer do not have the same inadequate treatment in the future.  I am pleased also that the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman is now looking into the case, including the way in which the Trusts involved dealt with the complaints we raised”.

Nick commented:-

“I am so pleased for Debbie.  It has taken a great deal of courage and tenacity to achieve this result.  There is no doubt in my mind that, had Debbie not pursued things, as she has, then Dr Smedley would have continued practicising. The Breast Cancer Clinic operating out of the Kent and Canterbury Hospital is now a safe place for women to be treated all thanks to Debbie.  We will be pursuing the Trusts’ handling of her complaints and the supervision of Dr Smedley, pursuant to GMC undertakings, through the Parliamentary Health Service Ombudsman who is investigating these matters”.

Please see below for the GMC’s determination.

This case was covered by BBC South East and Radio Kent as well as the Canterbury Times.

It has previously featured in Private Eye and the Sunday Times

GMC determination