Norfolk doctor who transported infected blood samples from Nigeria to Great Yarmouth accused of putting people at risk
12:59 24 June 2014
A doctor put airline passengers at risk of infection when he carried potentially HIV positive blood samples on a flight from Nigeria, a tribunal heard.
Consultant Dr Tubonye Harry allegedly breached international regulations when he brought the infectious material into the UK in his hand luggage in December 2010.
The former genito-urinary specialist, who worked at the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston at the time and helped found Great Yarmouth’s Bure Clinic, had packed the samples in Royal Mail ‘safe boxes’. But he broke guidelines prohibiting their transportation in hand or checked-in baggage, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service heard.
Speaking at the tribunal being held in Manchester this week, General Medical Council (GMC) expert witness Dr Philip Wood said although the risk to the public was small the potential consequences were ‘very high’.
Harry also breached regulations when he unpacked the samples at home and transported them to the Bure Clinic in Great Yarmouth in his own car.
Robin Kitching, for the GMC, further alleged the medic was ‘dishonest’ when he asked a colleague to classify two patients as private rather than NHS in their medical notes.
The doctor was sacked for gross misconduct by the James Paget University Hospital Trust in 2012 after concerns were raised over samples from Nigerian patients being processed on the NHS.
An employment tribunal later found he had been unfairly dismissed by the trust, but the medic is now accused of misconduct at a hearing in Manchester after he was referred to the GMC.
Harry could face conditions on his registration, up to a years’ suspension from the medical register, or even being struck off if the three-person fitness to practice panel finds against him.
Harry accepts that he did not comply with guidance, but denies his actions constituted a serious breach.
In a report prepared for the GMC, however, Dr Wood said the doctor’s actions ‘fell seriously below the standard of care one would expect’ from a competent consultant.
“The risk will revolve around the risk of rupture of the container and potential seepage of blood and particularly the closed space of an air cabin and the subsequent risk of circulation, potentially by aerosol,” said Dr Wood.
“The likelihood may be small, but the consequences of dissemination of an infected blood sample would be very high.
“The risk would be that the samples are being transported in packaging that may not withstand a road traffic accident or similar event and if that were the case that would place the individual involved and responders at risk of exposure to an infected substance.
“Any medical practitioner should be very well aware of the risk of infection from blood samples, particularly blood samples where there is a high probability of HIV infection.
“Any doctor transporting blood samples should ensure they were minimising the risk.
“A consultant with considerable experience in the field and knowledge of HIV as a disease and knowledge of the risks in transportation of that infectious material would have taken an even higher view around minimising the risk to the public and patients.”
Jeremy Hyam, defending Dr Harry, suggested that the boxes used to carry the blood samples in were “virtually indestructible” and could have even ended up on the same plane as Harry had he sent them by courier or post.
He said: “I’m not suggesting what happened here was right. It was wrong, it was contrary to regulations.
“In terms of risk assessment and departure from standards, my suggestion to you is that it would not be, in order of magnitude, very different from the safety you get when you post it.
“That is undoubtedly falling below the standard expected. It is not seriously below the standard expected because of the sort of box used and the breach was only a partial failure of the guidance.”
Harry qualified as a doctor in 1979 and had been a consultant since 1996.
He had worked for the NHS trust for 16 years and had helped set up the Bure Clinic for patients with sexually transmitted conditions.
The hearing, which is expected to finish on Friday, continues.