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Ilford pharmacist who harassed and made false allegations against fellow professionals struck off

A pharmacist who failed to adhere to acceptable standards of conduct,and who caused mental suffering and anguish to fellow healthcareprofessionals, has had her name removed from the Register by order ofthe Disciplinary Committee

A pharmacist who failed to adhere to acceptable standards of conduct, and who caused mental suffering and anguish to fellow healthcare professionals, has had her name removed from the Register by order of the Disciplinary Committee.

The case of Neelu Chaudhari, of Ilford, Essex, was heard by the committee on 14 and 15 October 2009, following a resumed Statutory Committee inquiry. She was facing allegations of misconduct arising from her actions following the death of her baby niece at King George Hospital, Ilford, on 26 August 2000.

Miss Chaudhari was not present at the hearing and was not represented.

Full transcripts of Disciplinary Committee decisions are available from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s website.

The committee heard that the baby had suffered several medical complications, including serious congenital abnormalities. There had been a diagnosis of Trisomy 18, or Edward’s syndrome, the prognosis for which is poor with a mortality rate of 98 per cent in the first year of life. The baby had died aged  three months.

Mrs Chaudhari’s alleged misconduct arose after a rift developed between the team treating the baby and the family, who believed the baby was not being treated properly. This had reached a stage such that the baby’s mother would barricade herself in the hospital room, impeding ready access of the care team.

Emergency protection order

The hospital trust had then applied for an emergency protection order, which was granted, giving the trust parental responsibility for the child, preventing the child from being removed from the hospital and enabling the trust to regulate parental access. Mrs Chaudhari was a named respondent in the order and was excluded from contact with the baby. The family sought to appeal the emergency protection order but the baby died during the course of the hearing.

Thereafter, the family had become convinced that there had been a conspiracy by the care team to exclude the parents so that the baby could be killed, possibly for body parts, and that there had been a subsequent cover up. They believed that five Great Ormond Street Hospital doctors had been part of a broader conspiracy to murder the child. They believed that the baby had been given overdoses of ranitidine and potassium chlorate in an attempt to kill her and that her oxygen supply had been manipulated in order to harm her.

After the subsequent autopsy, when organs were removed, the family believed that the purpose of the conspiracy was to kill the child to obtain human organs. They then made an allegation of murder to the police, who commenced an investigation.

All subsequent reports, and a jury at an inquest in September 2001, confirmed that the baby had died of natural causes as a result of having Edward’s syndrome. The police report concluded the same. However none of these findings changed the family’s mind and they began a campaign, as they saw it, to expose the conspiracy.

Among the family’s actions was to make formal complaints against two hospital pharmacists who had dispensed ranitidine and potassium chlorate while the baby was in hospital. It was when the Royal Pharmaceutical Society became aware of this that it began to investigate Miss Chaudhari’s conduct because it was concerned about the civil orders against her.

The Society alleged that Miss Chaudhari published material on websites, demonstrated on hospital premises and distributed leaflets claiming that her niece had been murdered by NHS doctors. In July 2002, these actions had been made subject to an ex parte injunction not to harass or assault hospital staff and, in August 2002, not to enter or obstruct the trust’s hospitals.

Thereafter it was alleged that Miss Chaudhari began demonstrating around Great Ormond Street Hospital, in London, and at the home of a GOSH doctor alleging murder, and publishing on websites allegations of  murder and that organs had been removed.

In October 2003, she gave undertakings in the High Court in a consent order about these and other matters but, in March 2004, the High Court found that some of the undertakings had been breached, including the fact that there had been additional harassment.

In April 2004, the High Court issued as permanent restraining and mandatory order against Miss Chaudhari.

The Society alleged that Miss Chaudhari’s actions were breaches of Key Responsibility 3 (KR3) of the Code of Ethics for Pharmacists and Pharmacy Technicians, namely, “Show respect for others”, and as such she was unfit to practise as a pharmacist.

Giving the committee’s decision, the chairman (John Burrow), said that the committee had taken regard of the wording in KR3. It stated: “Pharmacists must ensure that they behave with integrity and probity, adhere to accepted standards of personal  and professional conduct and do not engage in any behaviour or activity likely to bring the profession into disrepute or undermine public confidence in the profession.”

The committee accepted that publishing allegations on a website, demonstrating on hospital grounds and distributing leaflets alleging murder by NHS doctors was in breach of KR3, despite the circumstances of the death and despite Miss Chaudhari’s beliefs in respect of it, the chairman said.

Serious misconduct

“We considered whether it constituted serious misconduct. We noted it involved very serious allegations against fellow health professionals by Miss Chaudhari, herself a healthcare professional,” he said. The committee also noted that a number of expert reports had been published, none of which gave any support to the allegations being made by Miss Chaudhari. Indeed, they refuted them.

“In the fact of these matters we concluded that Miss Chaudhari, a trained healthcare professional, should not have disseminated these very serious allegations against fellow healthcare professionals. We concluded that this was the case despite the traumatic events surrounding the death of [the baby] and her beliefs relating to them. We accepted that [this] was serious misconduct,” the chairman said.

He added: “There was a substantial body of independent evidence which should have caused Miss Chaudhari to be much more restrained in her behaviour. For her to ignore these matters and behave in such a way as to bring down an injunction upon herself was, in our view, a serious matter. We accepted that this was serious misconduct.”

The chairman then turned to allegations that Miss Chaudhari had breached undertakings that she had given to the High Court, which he said was a very serious matter. Mrs Chaudhari “was aware of the serious effect her conduct was having … because it had been set out in earlier proceedings, yet she opted to continue her actions. To repeat the prohibited conduct and further harass the claimants in our view substantially exacerbated the situation. … In our judgement the conduct represented a serious breach of KR3 and constituted serious misconduct. Therefore we accepted that the matters set out in the particulars of misconduct, and found proved, individually and collectively rendered Miss Chaudhari unfit to be on the Register,” he said.

The chairman then turned to the question of sanction. He said that there were a number of findings in the civil jurisdiction against Miss Chaudhari, including an emergency protection order, an injunction, a breach of undertakings in the High Court and the imposition of a restraining order.

Furthermore, her conduct had been adjudged in the High Court as constituting harassment within the meaning of the Harassment Act 1997. Aggravating features were the strength of the allegations made against fellow health professionals, including murder, and that these allegations were posted on a number of websites providing general access throughout the world.

The chairman said that a possible mitigating factor was that Miss Chaudhari did actually believe the allegations she was making. “However, this matter must be set against the many reports, findings, investigations and court proceedings which have refuted these beliefs and which she continues to ignore.”

Another possible mitigating factor was the fact that there was no potential harm to patients since it did not directly concern Miss Chaudhari’s immediate contact with patients. But set against that was the fact that substantial emotional damage was caused to the doctors and health professionals involved, said the chairman.

Future risk

The committee considered whether an appropriate sanction might be a reprimand. However, it concluded that there was a future risk that Miss Chaudhari would repeat her actions in this matter. The chairman said: “While it is the case that there is a permanent restraining and mandatory order in place against Miss Chaudhari, it is correct that there were breaches of earlier undertakings and there have already been two attempts to quash the restraining order.”

The committee also noted that it was clear that Miss Chaudhari still maintained her views concerning the murder and conspiracy allegations, having repeated them as recently as April 2009. The committee concluded that there was a continuing risk of repetition of Miss Chaudhari’s misconduct and that she had inadequate insight into it.

The chairman said that the committee had found 11 breaches of KR3 that amounted to serious professional misconduct and that a reprimand was therefore not an appropriate sanction.

Ordering her removal from the Register, the chairman concluded: “Miss Chaudhari’s involvement in perpetuating, over a long period, extreme allegations against fellow healthcare professionals in the face of an overwhelming body of independent evidence to the contrary, the fact that she has brought down on herself civil injunctions and had breached undertakings given to the High Court would, in our view, undermine public confidence if she were allowed to practise as a pharmacist.

She has breached in several respects Key Responsibility 3, which is a fundamental tenet of the profession of pharmacy, and has failed to have regard to legal constraints imposed by civil courts and has failed to adhere to accepted standards of conduct. She has caused mental suffering and harassment to fellow health care professionals and there is a continuing risk that she will repeat this misconduct. In our view, the just, fair, necessary and proportionate sanction is removal.”

Since the proceedings were begun under Statutory Committee rules, Mrs Chaudhari had three months during which to appeal against the committee’s decision.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11000053

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