UK Doctor believe cop was malingering

Wednesday, 23rd August 2006

A police doctor hired a private detective to spy on a police officer he believed was ‘malingering’ in order to get compensation, the General Medical Council heard today (wed).

PC Robert Millar, 35, of West Midlands Police wanted personal injury compensation and early retirement after he was injured in a road crash while on duty in 1998, the panel was told.

But Dr Nicholas Cooling, 50, the force’s consultant psychiatrist, diagnosed the officer as only 35 per cent disabled, disqualifying him from early retirement and reducing the level of compensation he could apply for to the second-lowest level.

A fitness-to-practice panel heard how Dr Cooling took it upon himself to hire a private detective to make secret video recordings of his patient after the police officer filed a complaint to the GMC about him and lodged an appeal against the compensation decision.

Dr Cooling admits he passed on the PC’s name and address to an ‘enquiry agent’ in order to get evidence to back up his medical judgement. He faces being struck off if the case against him is proven and it is found that his alleged misconduct impaired his fitness to practice.

Lorraine Williams, Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare Manager for West Midlands Police, was asked by the doctor’s representative Michael Horne, “Dr Cooling came to the view that PC Millar was malingering?” She replied: “Yes.”

Mr Horne continued: “He discussed with you the possibility of covert surveillance of PC Millar. He suggested that the force should do it?”

“Yes”, Mrs Williams replied, “My response was to say this wasn’t force policy. I probably would have said he needed to go to another level to authorise that.”

She added that PC Millar’s appeal against the original compensation decision had been rejected and after examination by another psychiatrist, his level of disability and therefore eligibility for compensation had been further reduced.

She went on: “In practical terms this means little or no financial payment from the force. He gets a DSS allowance, we don’t pay anything. He hasn’t appealed against this.”

Mr Horne asked Mrs Williams whether the doctor was ‘committed’ and whether ‘his interest was getting the right answer’. “Yes,” she replied.

Dr David Baxendine, a consultant occupational physician working for the police, also gave evidence for the GMC and admitted that occupational health for the force was exceptionally stressful and ‘full of emotion and angst’.

He said: “It’s always quite an emotionally charged area. You’re dealing with a situation in which officers may have been injured or off work for quite a time, under stress and not knowing what their future is.

“They very often feel they are entitled to retirement or injury on duty awards and anyone who opposes this is at best misguided or actually maybe acting in an unhelpful way at the insistence of the police force. It’s a quite difficult and fraught situation with a lot of emotion and angst.”

But he added that doctors had a duty to withhold confidential information on their patients from third parties unless there was ‘significant public interest’ in releasing it, such as danger to the patient or the public.

Asked by Mr Horne whether he had experienced a doctor directly commissioning surveillance on a patient he went on: “I would have to say in my experience it would be unique. I’ve never known a case where it’s been done. Normally any decision about covert surveillance is made by the police force.

“The doctor would normally divorce himself from that actual decision.”

The hearing, expected to last until Friday, continues.