‘This has been the worst mistake of my career’ – GP suspended for misleading court over custody case
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A doctor who was suspended for six months after he falsely advised a family court about a parent’s history of drug abuse has said it was “the worst mistake” of his career.
A tribunal has found that a Colchester GP consciously misled court proceedings after giving false evidence in a parental custody dispute.
Dr Joannes Langendijk, a GP at North Colchester Healthcare Centre who has also worked at a practice in Felixstowe, wrote a letter to the court stating he had “a thorough look” at the patient’s records, and “there is no evidence whatsoever that she has abused drugs or alcohol in the past” – despite knowing she had tested positive for cocaine use.
The GP also wrote: “She has no history of depression,” directly contradicting the patient’s medical records.
Dr Langendijk admitted both of the statements were “certainly inaccurate,” and “to include them in the letter to the court was a serious error” – however he claimed he did not deliberately mislead proceedings, but was instead victim to circumstances which made it difficult for him to carry out the relevant checks.
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In evidence given to the tribunal, he stated: “When I completed the letter to the court itself, I did not look at Patient A’s records in detail. My comments were mainly based on what Patient A told me herself.
“I could not open a number of pages and documents within the medical records and I therefore based my comments on what I could glean from a quick review.”
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Dr Langendijk claimed that, since he had directed his secretary to attach a summary of the patient’s records to the report, he could not consciously have misled the court – “as it clearly revealed the errors in my letter”.
However the tribunal said it “did not believe him” – arguing that a “preeminent theme throughout the medical records is the reference to depression and depression-treating drugs”.
The panel’s report added: “The tribunal therefore determined that when Dr Langendijk had stated in the letter that Patient A has ‘no history of depression’, he was stating something that he knew to be untrue.”
As Dr Langendijk had spoken with the patient about her cocaine use, the panel argued: “It was implausible to believe a doctor of his seniority and experience would fail to grasp that this disclosure was incompatible, on any sensible view, with the simple, bald assertion that ‘there is no evidence whatsoever that she has abused drugs... in the past’.”
Dr Langendijk attributed the misinformation to a number of factors, including: “being extremely busy, the emotional consultation with the patient, my unfamiliarity with providing letters to the court, my poor computer skills which made reading the full detailed record difficult and the fact that English is not my first language”.
He also admitted he had “over-empathised” with the patient, and he “tried too hard” to advocate for her.
Taking into account all of the evidence, the tribunal found “in the light of his position and status, his word was likely to be accepted by a court without question” – and therefore to submit such a letter “amounted to an abuse of trust in the profession”.
On behalf of Dr Langendijk, Stephen Brassington asked the tribunal “to recognise the human element of being a doctor”.
However the panel was in “no doubt” that his actions had amounted to misconduct, and it could not be said that this “has been remedied” nor that it was “highly unlikely to be remedied”.
Therefore Dr Langendijk’s fitness to practice was found to be impaired, and it was agreed that he should be suspended.
Mitigating for the GP, Mr Brassington argued that he had demonstrated “developing insight,” and “previous good character,” and highlighted “positive testimonials from professional colleagues and patients”.
However the case was still deemed serious enough to warrant serious action – and Dr Langendijk was handed a six month suspension.
Reflecting on his actions, the Colchester GP said: “This has been the worst mistake of my career.
“I am grateful no parties have been injured or harm done. I am very much aware this could indeed have been the case.”