Doctor in Baby P flees country before misconduct hearing, GMC told

A doctor accused of failing to spot that Baby Peter had a broken back and was being abused did not appear before a disciplinary hearing yesterday.

Sabah Al-Zayyat, a locum paediatrician, was said to be suicidal and unfit to defend herself against charges of serious professional misconduct. The General Medical Council (GMC) was told that she had left the country.

The Saudi-born doctor saw 17-month-old Peter Connelly at St Ann’s Hospital in Haringey, North London, only two days before his death in August 2007.

She was due to appear in front of a fitness to practise panel yesterday, accused of failing to carry out an “adequate examination” of the toddler, investigating his injuries or admitting him to hospital. However, the hearing was adjourned yesterday for experts to review psychiatric reports on the doctor’s mental health.

Rebecca Poulet, QC, for the GMC, said that Dr Al-Zayyat was assessed by a psychiatrist on Friday afternoon but had since left Britain for an unknown destination.

“The pressure on her has been such that her mental health has broken down completely and the possibility of suicide is a real one,” Mrs Poulet told the hearing. “She is unfit to defend herself across the public hearing and unfit to instruct her solicitors.”

If found guilty of serious professional misconduct, Dr Al-Zayyat could be struck off the medical register and banned from working in Britain.

The GMC said that it was informed of the doctor’s departure at 9.30am yesterday, just as the hearing was due to start. The fitness to practise panel, sitting in London, was adjourned until tomorrow to consider whether the hearing could continue in the doctor’s absence, or whether it should be held in private.

The Medical Protection Society, which is representing Dr Al-Zayyat, released a statement on her behalf yesterday. It read: “In my 28 years as a paediatrician I have been devoted to the care of children and have always tried to do my best for them. I have been and remain deeply affected by the shocking and tragic circumstances of Baby Peter’s death. It would be inappropriate for me to comment any further until the hearing concludes.”

Peter’s mother and two men have been jailed for their part in his death.

The child, who died at his home in Edmonton, North London, had received 60 visits from social services and health workers. All failed to spot that he was being abused.

A post-mortem examination found that he had suffered multiple injuries, including a broken back and ribs, which an early trial suggested should have been spotted before his death. Peter was on the child protection register at the time he was seen by Dr Al-Zayyat, a locum consultant community paediatrician at the hospital, two days earlier.

A previous trial was told that Dr Al-Zayyat noted bruises on Peter’s face and body but told police that she did not carry out a full examination because the child was “miserable and cranky”. She denied that he could have had a broken back at this point.

The GMC hearing, which was scheduled to continue until mid-March, was to look at whether she failed to diagnose abuse. It was also to investigate whether she broke the rules by applying for a job in the Republic of Ireland without informing the GMC, or telling her prospective employer about the restrictions on her practice already imposed in the wake of the trial.

The GMC said yesterday that misconduct hearings could continue in private or in public, with or without the accused being present: “The doctor is not under any obligation to attend.”