- Published: Friday, 01 October 2021 08:07
- Written by Chris Tapper
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A former Chair of the General Dental Council’s Professional Conduct Committee has been immediately suspended from the dental register for six months after a PCC Committee heard he had made unprofessional, offensive and racially motivated comments.
Although the remarks were made in August 2018, the dentist was not dismissed from the committee until February 2019.
The Committee concluded on September 23rd that Mr Rashpal Singh Mondair’s fitness to practise was impaired.
Mr Mondair faced a charge “That, being a registered dentist On 1 August 2018 whilst acting as a General Dental Council Practice Committee Member you made comments along the lines of, “This is going to sound racist but...” and went on to comment words to the effect that you would not want to be treated by an African individual and another group.
Mr Mondair did not participate in a hearing, nor did he attend or have representation, in a previous GDC hearing, held remotely on May 25th 2021.
In May, when Mr Mondair failed to join the hearing, the PCC had to consider whether notice of the hearing had been served in accordance with the GDC’s rules and whether to proceed in his absence.
The Committee heard Mr Mondair had been sent a Notice of Hearing by Special Delivery and by secure email to an address the dentist had been using to correspond with the GDC.
The Committee was satisfied that the notice had been served within GDC rules as well as providing Mr Mondair with the hearing’s time, date and Microsoft Teams details.
The PCC then had to consider whether to exercise its discretion to proceed with the hearing in the absence of Mr Mondair, under GDC rules.
The Committee heard that Mr Mondair emailed the GDC on May 5th 2021, stating “I wish to confirm that I WILL be attending the hearing from Monday 24th May to its conclusion.”
The PCC then adjourned so that the GDC could make a further attempt to contact Mr Mondair and ascertain whether he would be attending the hearing, reconvening the following day to see whether the former PCC Chair had responded to the GDC’s communications.
The GDC’s Counsel, Miss Lydia Barnfather, told the reconvened Committee that Mr Mondair had responded to a GDC email early in the evening on May 24th, saying that he “totally forgot about the hearing date.”
He indicated that he would be attending the hearing on 25th May.
But the former PCC Chair also stated that he was not content for the Committee to proceed in his absence and did not want to postpone the hearing.
Mr Mondair was said to have then sent a subsequent email to the GDC on the same evening, requesting a copy of the charge sheet again.
The dentist was “Sent another copy of the charge sheet as well as the hearing bundle and the mobile phone number of the GDC’s instructing solicitor,” the hearing’s transcript said.
“He was invited to attend a remote meeting at 9 a.m. the following morning. The secure fileshare link that was sent had not, as late as 10 a.m. on the second day of the hearing, been accessed.”
Miss Barnfather submitted that no further correspondence was received by the GDC, despite the GDC’s attempts to contact him and Mr Mondair had failed to attend the hearing.
“The Committee noted that the GDC has made exhaustive efforts to contact Mr Mondair regarding this hearing and that Mr Mondair’s responses have been inconsistent and unreliable.”
“The Committee further noted that Mr Mondair was previously a Chair of the Practice Committee at the GDC and would be fully aware of the procedures in place when a registrant fails to attend a substantive hearing.”
“The Committee noted that Mr Mondair had indicated once in email correspondence to the GDC in August 2020 that these proceedings were causing him stress.”
The transcript said “Mr Mondair has not mentioned this subsequently and has provided no other reasons for his non-attendance, other than his email of 24 May 2021 when he stated that he had forgotten, despite having been aware of the date of this hearing since September 2020 and confirming by email to the GDC on 5 and 24 May 2021 that he would be attending.”
The Committee concluded that it was clear that Mr Mondair had waived his right to attend the hearing and the hearing should proceed, particularly since an adjournment may adversely impact witnesses in their ability to attend a future hearing and risk their recollection of events fading with time.
The Committee decided to proceeded with the May 25th hearing, noting that Mr Mondair had “Also stated that he was opposed to the hearing being postponed.”
But after announcing its decision to proceed, the Committee was then provided with further documents which comprised Mr Mondair’s email correspondence with the GDC on the morning of the hearing.
Mr Mondair said he had travelled to London on the morning of the 25th and “Visited two venues in order to attend the hearing but these were closed.”
“He said he still did not have a mobile phone and was accessing emails at a public library. He further stated to the GDC that he was under the impression that the hearing would be taking place in person rather than remotely.”
“Lastly, Mr Mondair sent numerous emails over a period of 15 minutes stating that he has attempted to click on the link to join the hearing but nothing happened.”
“The Committee further noted that the GDC solicitor had checked the link and confirmed it was working.”
The Committee said after considering the information, that it could see no factual basis for Mr Mondair’s belief that the hearing would be taking place at a live venue and not remotely.
After the dentist’s correspondence, the GDC’s solicitor arranged a venue in London where the former PCC Chair could join the hearing by telephone in the afternoon, but Mr Mondair had neither responded to an email, or called the GDC solicitor.
The PCC concluded that Mr Mondair had decided not to participate in the proceedings and continued with the hearing in his absence.
On 28 May the Chairman of the PCC said “It is alleged that on 1 August 2018, whilst sitting as a GDC Practice Committee member, Mr Mondair made comments along the lines of, “this is going to sound racist but...” and went on to comment using words along the lines of that he would not want to be treated by an African individual and another group. It is alleged that these comments were unprofessional, offensive and racially motivated.”
The Committee considered statements from four witnesses, three of whom provided oral evidence.
The PCC found it proved that Mr Mondair HAD said words along the lines of “This is going to sound racist but...” whilst serving as a General Dental Practice Committee Member.
Mr Mondair had also admitted prefacing his words in this manner.
There was some disagreement between the witnesses as to the exact words which followed. One witness said Mr Mondair referred to African and Asians.
Another said in his statement of August 2018 that Mr Mondair “Referred to Africa and “The sentence continued with reference to other continents or ethnic origins.”
The third witness said in a statement that Mr Mondair “Referred to Africa.”
Mr Mondair’s own statement referred to “Someone from Africa or Eastern Europe.”
Two of the witnesses said Mr Mondair used the “First person singular in referring to himself and not to some people.” A third witness recorded in SPAC investigation notes on 5th November 2018, recorded Mr Mondair as having said something like ‘I don’t want to be treated...by an African or Asian.”
Mr Mondair said in his statement that rather than making a comment in the first person, he had said “There are people who may not want to see” people from these geographic areas.”
Two of the witnesses said that Mr Mondair was recounting a personal anecdote.
“The Committee was of the view therefore that it was more likely than not that Mr Mondair was telling a personal anecdote and therefore had made the comments in the first person and had not made a general observation about ‘some people.’”
“The Committee was also satisfied by the weight of the evidence that that Mr Mondair had stated that he did not want to be treated by an “African individual” and another group, although it is accepted that there are different accounts as to which other groups were mentioned.”
The Committee found the charge that the remarks were ‘unprofessional’ proved.
The hearing transcript said the Committee “Further noted that, at the time of the comments, Mr Mondair was both a registered dental professional and a serving Chair of the GDC’s Professional Conduct Committee and would therefore have known the standards of behaviour expected of a Committee member when carrying out his role.”
The Committee also found proved that Mr Mondair’s comments were offensive.
The Committee concluded that these comments were objectively liable to offend and did offend Mr Mondair’s fellow PCC members although the strength of feeling recorded by each varied.
Witnesses variously described there being a ‘short awkward silence’ and being ‘shocked’ and later ‘troubled.’
The Committee noted that Mr Mondair apologised “For the feelings that may have been aroused.”
The Committee was said to be therefore satisfied that it was more likely than not that his comments were offensive.
The Committee also found it proved that Mr Mondair’s comments were racially motivated.
The transcript said “When considering this head of charge, the Committee was satisfied that these comments were racist as they were comments antagonistic towards people based on their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group.”
Mr Mondair’s comments were made during a lunchbreak in August 2018 and the Committee had sight of a range of documents made at the time from contemporaneous notes.
“It is accepted by all the witnesses and Mr Mondair himself that he prefaced his comment with words along the lines of “this is going to sound racist but...”. His choice of words in doing so were intended to alert his audience that what he was about to say could be perceived as racist,” the transcript read.
“The Committee has carefully scrutinised the totality of the evidence and the only reasonable inference it can draw is that it is more likely than not that the comment was racially motivated. It could identify no other plausible motivation for the comments.”
The Committee resumed consideration of the case on 23rd September.
Summarising the Committee’s findings, addressing Mr Mondair, the Chairman said “You stated it was important to consider the context in which you made the remarks.”
“You stated that you were discussing NHS operations and were talking about a personal medical procedure that you had undergone and had told the consultant that you preferred to have a local anaesthetic rather than a general anaesthetic, because you were of the view that your procedure would then be carried out by a more experienced surgeon.”
“You stated that the comments you made were therefore discriminatory only in relation to the experience of the doctors you were referring to rather than their race. You further stated that the investigation undertaken by the Committee on which you were serving at the time was flawed and unfair.”
“You informed the Committee that the evidence of your Committee colleagues was contaminated as they had discussed the evidence with each other before writing their witness statements.”
“You conceded that your comments had been perceived as racist but only because your Committee colleagues had lost sight of your anecdote which formed the context of the remark.”
The Committee heard that Mr Mondair had completed 137 hours of online CPD training on equality and diversity and had written a Personal Development Plan. The dentist had previously also stated that he was not a racist.
The GDC’s Counsel, Miss Barnfather submitted to the Committee that Mr Mondair was unable to unable to see the inappropriateness of hist own conduct.
The GDC’s Council said Mr Mondair’s conduct had brought the profession into disrepute and the confidence and reputation of the profession would be further undermined if a finding of impairment was not made in the case.”
“Miss Barnfather submitted that your comments were abhorrent and deplorable and were in direct opposition to the fundamental tenets of the profession. In particular, your comments undermined the standards and reputation of the profession and the GDC as a regulator.”
“She submitted that Committee members should be independent and impartial so cases could be judged fairly and in accordance with the rules. Racially motivated comments jeopardise the impartiality of the regulatory process and risk the integrity and fairness of the decision-making process.”
The Chairman went on “The Committee considered that you have only partial insight, have expressed qualified remorse and conducted some remediation in the form of online courses relating to equality, diversity and inclusion.”
“Notwithstanding your online attendance at these courses and your reflective statement, you have not, in the Committee’s judgment, addressed the fundamental issue in relation to your misconduct.”
“Your reflection does not record an appreciation of the fundamental unacceptability of the comments you made, the seriousness and nature of them and the impact they had on your professional colleagues.”
“Further, and more importantly, you have no insight on the wider implications to the integrity of the regulatory process and the potential damage your comments could have caused to the impartiality of the proceedings and to the reputation of the GDC as the regulator.”
Public trust and confidence in your profession could have been seriously undermined as a direct result of your misconduct and the Committee has no evidence that you understand this.
In mitigation, the Committee noted that Mr Mondair had practised for 30 years and had no fitness to practice history with the GDC and the incident was an isolated event.
The. Committee noted aggravating factors as Mr Mondair’s “Blatant disregard of the role of the GDC and the systems regulating the profession” and “Lack of full insight and unqualified remorse.”
The Committee handed Mr Mondair’s a six-month suspension, with review.
The case drew headlines from national newspapers and much criticism from dental professional groups on social media, disappointed at the six-month suspension that many thought as ‘lenient.’
BDA News said “The British Dental Association has called on the General Dental Council to ensure it offers meaningful protection to all registrants, following the suspension of a Practice Committee Member for making racially motivated comments.”
“The GDC has already recognised that these comments had the potential to jeopardise the impartiality of the regulatory process, and risked the integrity and fairness of decision-making.”
Dentist leaders are now seeking urgent clarity that this unprofessional behaviour has not impacted the treatment of any registrants to date and that safeguards are in place to ensure fair and equitable treatment for all.
Shareena Ilyas, Chair of the British Dental Association’s Education, Ethics and the Dental Team Working Group said “These sickening comments have absolutely no place in this profession, let alone in our professional regulator.
“The General Dental Council has taken the right course of action. However, this raises serious questions about decisions taken over the course of years.
“An individual harbouring poisonous views was free to hold a privileged position at a health watchdog. Ethnic minority dentists are already more likely to expect referrals from patients. We need cast-iron assurances that safeguards are now in place to ensure fair treatment for all when complaints reach the GDC.”
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