Tribunal gives reprieve to radiologist after drinking session

2021 01 04 17 52 4927 Scales Of Justice2 400

Dr. Mathias Gruber, the German-trained radiologist who was dismissed after drinking the night before he reported for a shift at a U.K. hospital, will remain on the medical register following a five-day investigation, according to a report posted on 28 December by the Peterborough Telegraph newspaper.

A tribunal held from 14 to 18 December found that Gruber's behavior "could be considered irresponsible by fellow professionals" and "represented misconduct." However, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) ruled that the incident fell below the threshold of serious misconduct and that he can be allowed to continue in practice, the Peterborough Telegraph reported.

The MPTS said it could not find evidence that the quality of Gruber's work had been impaired the day after his drinking session. A CT examination he reported during the morning at Peterborough City Hospital was found to be accurate, and two breathalyzer tests showed Gruber was under the U.K. legal drink-drive limit.

Gruber worked as a radiologist at Peterborough City Hospital from 2009 to 2019. Photo courtesy of John Baker.Gruber worked as a radiologist at Peterborough City Hospital from 2009 to 2019. Photo courtesy of John Baker.

Gruber completed his medical degree in 1997 at Saarland University Hospital in Saarbr├╝cken, the capital of the German state of Saarland, the MPTS stated in its 16 pages of evidence. He was fired for misconduct by the North West Anglia National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust after admitting he could not remember how much alcohol he had drunk the night before going to work on 6 September 2018.

This was the second alcohol-related misdemeanor by Gruber after he was subject to an investigation earlier in 2018 in which he had agreed to measures, including random breath tests, the MPTS stated.

Gruber had worked for the NHS trust -- which runs Peterborough City, Stamford and Rutland, and Hinchingbrooke hospitals -- as a consultant radiologist since 2009. He was dismissed on 12 March 2019, following an inquiry by the trust. It referred his case to the General Medical Council three days later, noted the Peterborough Telegraph article.

"His fitness to practice was found to be impaired and conditions have been imposed on his registration for a period of 36 months," claimed Kanchan Rege, trust chief medical officer and deputy chief executive officer. "Dr. Gruber will not be returning to North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust."

On 6 September 2018, Gruber recorded an alcohol level of 22 mcg/100 ml of breath at 2.45 pm while at work, followed by a reading of 15 mcg/100 ml at 3.23 pm. The U.K. legal drink-drive limit is 35 mcg/100 ml of breath. Apparently Gruber told the trust's medical director that he had been out drinking with a friend until midnight the previous day and could not remember how much alcohol he had consumed.

Gruber did not respond to the allegations made against him as part of the hearing, but according to a witness statement handed over to the tribunal, he is said to have told the trust previously: "I was asked what I had been drinking prior to the breath test. I had been out to dinner with a friend the night before during which we shared a bottle of wine. We then went on to a pub and I do not recall how much I drank there."

The GMC told the tribunal that "Dr. Gruber's view that he was fit for work on the morning of [6 September 2018], despite consuming an unknown quantity of alcohol the night before, and his view that he did not present a potential risk to patients that morning, illustrated reckless behavior, a lack of insight and called into question his judgment."

However, the tribunal noted that no guidance had been given to Gruber as to the level of alcohol intake expected of him and that his quality of work appeared not to have suffered as a result of his drinking on 5 September 2018. It added that the trust had not appeared to follow the correct process by following up the breath test with a urine sample, according to the Peterborough Telegraph.

On, Gruber continues to list his job title as consultant radiologist at Peterborough and Stamford NHS Foundation Trust (as of 4 January 2021). Also, he is listed as a friend of the European Society of Radiology's EuroSafe Imaging initiative.

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