By Cara Sulieman
THE parents of a tragic teenage cancer sufferer who was blasted with 19 massive overdoses of radiation while being treated for a brain tumour has described a decision to allow the doctor responsible to keep working as a “travesty” and vowed to sue health chiefs.
Dr Stuart McNee bungled treatment plans which saw tragic Lisa Norris, 16, from Girvan, Ayrshire, receive 58 per cent more radiation than she should have, leaving her with burns to her neck, head and unable to continue the life-saving course.
But despite all misconduct charges being proven against him, the Health Professions Council ruled he could continue working.
Her parents described it as a “travesty” and attacked his decision to stay away from the hearing rather than face them.
Delivering their controversial decision, the panel’s chairman Colin Allies said that while all allegations of a lack of competence had been proven, it was their opinion that Dr McNee was still fit to practice.
He said: “We are confident the Registrant has learned from his mistakes and would act differently in similar circumstances today.
“We took into consideration the lack of staff and a lack of support from senior management.
“The Registrant’s fitness to practice is no impaired therefore the allegation is not well founded.”
But Lisa’s anguished parents Ken, 53, and Liz, 52, who attended today’s (fri) Conduct and Competence hearing, slammed the decision.
And they vowed to sue the health board responsible branding the decision a “whitewash”.
Dad Ken said: “I’m very disappointed that a man can do what he did and walk away from it.
“I was expecting him to at least get reprimanded for it.
“I expected him to be here so we could come face to face with him.
“No-one has taken responsibility for overdosing Lisa and as far as I’m concerned they have just white-washed it.
“It doesn’t matter that he had a good, impeccable record. What he did he shouldn’t have done.
“It’s a travesty.
“We will still continue our fight against NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde.”
The panel said Dr McNee had been responsible for planning the botched course of radiotherapy, but said his biggest failing had been not speaking out over staffing pressures in his department.
This had led to his failure to ensure that standing operating procedures were up to date or even followed, or to make sure that systems were in place to ensure his trainee practitioners were supported.
The hearing earlier made reference to a report by Dr Arthur Johnston, scientific adviser to the Scottish government’s health department, which said the overdose happened after an under-qualified and under-trained staff member entered a wrong number on a form.
Dr McNee also failed to have his proposed treatment plan verified or independently justified by a competent radiologist or radiographer or other trained staff.
At the hearing in Edinburgh’s Western General Hospital, Panel chairman Colin Allies said earlier evidence from Dr McNee’s colleagues had seen him described as a “hard working, skilful and committed professional.”
He highlighted evidence given at previous sittings from Professor Alexander Elliot, director of the West of Scotland Health Board.
It was his evidence, they said, that led the panel to find the allegations against Dr McNee proven, in particular to his supervision of the course of treatment for Lisa.
Mr Allies said: “We heard from Professor Elliot that documents and records were not up to date and that Dr McNee had not followed the standard operating procedure.
“We also heard that he could not be both a planner and a checker.”
He added: “We heard of shortages of clinical science staff and that the department was operating under extreme pressure as a result of a lack of experienced staff.
“The Registrant was the only doctor working within treatment planning and was under huge pressure to ensure patients started their treatment on time.”
He said that although Dr McNee’s failing had not been deliberate, they were still satisfied that as a manager he should have acted more “forcefully” to address the problems that had beset his department.
Mr Allies continued: “The actions of the Registrant were not deliberate, wilful or reckless and so this does not constitute incompetence.
“But the Registrant should have voiced his concerns more forcefully and it is here we have found the incompetence.”
However HPC lawyer Vicky Lord said it was not acceptable for a manager to allow their department to run “unsafely” and as a result the panel should find Dr McNee’s fitness to practice impaired.
She said: “It’s simply not on to allow a service to continue that’s not running effectively.
“Managers have a duty to speak up and speak out when a service is being run unsafely.”
Speaking on behalf of Dr McNee, lawyer Alistair Forsyth said that the doctor had had a long and distinguished career and that his fitness to practice was not impaired.
He also blamed a new computer system for the mistakes made.
He said: “Dr McNee started work in 1974 and has spent almost all that time at radiotherapy at the Beatson.
“He has an outstanding record and an international reputation in his field.
“He has made mistakes, which he has admitted to.
“But it was firstly – and ultimately – caused by the roll-out of the new computer system.”
He added: “Dr McNee could not cope with the ever-increasing demands on his workload.
“But his current fitness to practice is not impaired.”
Lisa was first diagnosed with the tumour in October 2005 and had been scheduled for 30 courses of treatment at the Beatson cancer centre in Glasgow which the otherwise healthy girl was expected to make a full recovery from.
Instead they were halted after the 19th when the error was discovered and she finally died from her condition in October 2006.
A report by cancer expert Professor Karol Sikora was commissioned by lawyers acting for the Norris family which concluded that had it not been for the bungled procedures, she would have had a better than average chance of living.
A section headed “Negligence” stated: “The radiotherapy clearly fell below any reasonable standard of care.”
Earlier this year it was revealed the Norris family had been granted legal aid so they could try and sue NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde over their daughter’s death at the Court of Session.
Dr McNee is currently working in a new role at the Western General and Gartnavel hospitals in Glasgow, where he is involved in clinical trials, teaching and research and development.
He did not attend today’s hearing.