CPD Accreditation considered by High Court

June 2, 2016

Parkwest Clinic V.  Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland [2016] IEHC 198

Continuing Professional Development (“CPD”) has become mandatory for many of the statutory professions in recent years, recognising the importance of continued learning and development for professionals. In addition to the challenge for regulators of monitoring CPD compliance, comes the further challenge of CPD accreditation by regulatory bodies.

The issue of CPD accreditation was recently considered by the High Court in RAS Medical Ltd, t/a Parkwest Clinic v Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland  where issues arose in the context of an event aimed at medical practitioners in the area of cosmetic surgery.

Background

The Applicant in the matter was a private medical clinic which primarily provides cosmetic surgery services. The Respondent was the Royal College of Surgeons, a provider of medical training in Ireland to whom the Medical Council has delegated certain functions in respect of the organisation and provision of events relating to the maintenance of professional competence by registered medical practitioners pursuant to the Medical Practitioners Act 2007 (“Act”).

Facts

In June 2013, the Applicant applied to the Respondent seeking CPD accreditation for an event    entitled “One Day Master Class on Polyurethane Breast implants and Cosmetic Surgery” to be taught through live surgery. The event was due to be held in July 2013.

At a meeting of the Respondent’s Professional Development and Practice Committee (“PDPC”) it was agreed that the sponsor of a surgical event accredited for CPD purposes was required to be registered on the Specialist Register of the Medical Council. It was agreed to amend the relevant guidelines accordingly.

On that basis, the Respondent requested additional information from the Applicant to include “a name of a consultant who is on the Medical Council Specialist Division of the Register in Plastic Surgery who supports this course”. None of the supporters of the event were on the Specialist Register in Ireland and the Applicant was subsequently informed that the event had not been approved for CPD accreditation, as a result of the requirement that the chief organiser of the event should be on the Specialist Register.

High Court

Before the High Court, the Applicant argued that:-

  1. It had complied with the relevant guidelines for CPD accreditation and suggested that the Respondent was attempting to retrospectively impose new guidelines which, they argued, was impermissible.
  2. It had received accreditation for essentially the same event in 2011, and therefore had a legitimate expectation that the same criteria would be applied in this instance.
  3. The imposition of this additional requirement that the chief organiser be on the specialist registrar was for an improper purpose and not rationally connected to the public interest.
  4. The new criterion imposed by the Respondent was ultra vires the Medical Practitioner’s Act 2007, in circumstances where it was not rationally connected to the educational value of the event in issue.

The Respondent submitted that it was clear from the Act and the Guidelines that the Respondent was afforded discretion in every application submitted for accreditation. The Respondent submitted that the guidelines were generic in nature and could not be regarded as exhaustive. In the context of the application in question, it was submitted that it is universally acknowledged best practice that surgery is overseen by the Respondent on the Specialist Register.

Decision

Having considered the matter, it was held by Noonan J that there was nothing objectionable in the requirement that the relevant person be on the Specialist Register in the area, in order for the event to qualify for the purpose of CPD accreditation.

The judgment draws a clear distinction as between guidelines and rules made under the Act, placing particular emphasis on the discretion offered within guidelines. Noonan J also placed particular emphasis on the fact that it is considered best practice by the Medical Council that surgery should be monitored by a medical practitioner who appears on the Specialist Register in this jurisdiction.

This decision is of relevance for all regulators accrediting CPD events as it provides clear guidance in terms of the discretion afforded to regulators in such instances. The decision also suggests that, in the accreditation process, the regulatory body is not bound by previous issued guidelines and suggests that to restrict the ability to amend guidelines would be to restrict the regulator’s role in public protection.

Authors: Lyn McCarthy & Helene Gallagher

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