misconduct | 

GP faces sanction after he failed to disclose conviction for tax offences

Dr Bassam Naser was jailed in 2018 for failure to pay almost €100,000 in tax

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Sean McCárthaigh

A Dublin GP, who was the subject of a public campaign to have him released from prison in 2018 after he pleaded guilty to tax offences, is facing disciplinary action over his failure to notify the Irish Medical Council (IMC) that he had received a criminal conviction.

Dr Bassam “Sam” Naser, a family doctor with a practice in Sutton, admitted to professional misconduct when he appeared before a hearing of the IMC’s fitness to practice committee last week in relation to false declarations he had made in annual returns to his regulatory body.

The Palestinian-born doctor admitted to failing to notify the IMC in a form submitted in 2017 that he was the subject of a criminal investigation, and in the following year’s form that he had been convicted of a criminal offence.

Dr Naser (54), a married father of seven of Howth Road, Sutton, Dublin, was sentenced to 16 months in jail at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court in June 2018 after pleading guilty to two charges relating to his failure to pay almost €100,000 in income tax for the years 2006 and 2007.

Counsel for the IMC, Ronan Kennedy SC, said the criminal convictions constituted contraventions of the Medical Practitioners Act 2007.

Mr Kennedy said the offences, combined with Dr Naser’s false declarations, amounted to conduct which doctors of experience, competence and good repute would regard as “disgraceful or dishonourable”.

He added that the doctor had used an undisclosed bank account to hide income from his practice from Revenue, while the IMC only became aware of Dr Naser’s criminal convictions from newspaper reports. Dr Naser, he said, had allowed financial concerns to get the better of his judgment in a matter that was a source of “regret, embarrassment and shame”.

The inquiry heard Dr Naser came to Ireland as a refugee from Palestine as a young boy and was first registered as a doctor in 1994. He had operated his own clinic in Sutton since 2008 and was a co-founder of the Northdoc out-of-hours doctor service in north Dublin.

Counsel for Dr Naser, Eileen Barrington SC, said he had repaid €100,000 owed to Revenue during the court case and was now tax compliant. She said her client had pleaded guilty to the criminal charges at the earliest opportunity, had no previous convictions and had “very impressive references”.

The doctor’s secretary had filled out the forms sent to the IMC but Dr Naser accepted he should have ensured they contained correct information, she added.

The inquiry heard several glowing testimonies from patients of Dr Naser, including one which described him as “the best GP out there”.

Ms Barrington said Dr Naser was an excellent doctor who was dedicated to his patients and who was loved by them. She said there was no concern about the protection of patients from his actions. The barrister added that her client was a strong advocate for his patients and often went “beyond the call of duty” in their care. She said Dr Naser was his family’s sole earner and his imprisonment had been “devastating” for them; he was subsequently declared bankrupt. She added that he had also carried out community service at a drug treatment centre after being released from prison after 10 months.

The inquiry heard the IMC had considered cancelling Dr Naser’s registration back in 2018.

“He is desperate to make up for what he has done to his family, community and regulatory body,” said Ms Barrington. Pleading for leniency, she said the medical profession would not be served by penalising Dr Naser for the same offence twice.

Professor Arnold Hill, a consultant surgeon at Beaumont Hospital, told the inquiry that patients had an extraordinary affection for Dr Naser.

Another GP and lifelong friend, Dr Stan Natin, said Dr Naser was “a broken man” when he visited him in Loughan House open prison.

Cross-examined by Mr Kennedy, Dr Natin said he would not comment on the observation of a Circuit Court judge that Dr Naser’s actions were “morally reprehensible”.

The jailing of the popular GP in 2018 led more than 6,000 people to sign a petition for his release from prison and asking then Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan to intervene on humanitarian grounds, while the case was discussed on several editions of RTÉ’s Liveline.

Among supporters were then Minister of State for Disability Issues, Finian McGrath; Senator Frances Black; Riverdance director John McColgan and businessman Michael Wright.

The IMC said it would make its findings known at a later date but that its recommended sanction will not be made public.

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