A chat with… Stewart Duffy
As part of our series of “chats with… our partners”, we talk to Stewart Duffy in our Healthcare – Professionals team. We ask what he gets up to during his working week and his reflections on the pandemic situation.
Tell us about your own area of legal practice?
My practice is centred around two key themes – regulation and healthcare – and for many of my clients those themes are intertwined. A mainstay of my work is advising healthcare professionals in dealings with their employer, or those who regulate their practice, or aspects of their business. This involves dealing with organisations such as the General Medical Council (GMC), General Dental Council (GDC), Care Quality Commission (CQC), the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and NHS England, including in the context of primary care contract disputes. I also act for healthcare professionals and providers in inquests. My work encompasses proceedings before regulators, tribunals, and in the Courts in the context of statutory appeals and judicial reviews. In recent years I have advised statutory regulators of health and care professionals on discrete aspects of their work.
I also act for university students in the context of student fitness to practise proceedings and I advise in relation to applications for GMC registration and specialist registration. In the context of data protection my clients include individual practitioners, and public and private healthcare providers, including NHS entities. However, my work in this field is not restricted to healthcare and I enjoy working with colleagues in our corporate and commercial litigation teams advising on data protection issues in a range of contexts.
What do you see as the legal issues most likely to affect the sectors in which you operate in the coming year?
The COVID pandemic has brought significant disruption to the progression of existing regulatory cases and I suspect that it will take a long time before those backlogs are cleared. Frontline clinical staff are understandably concerned that they will bear the regulatory burden of accountability for difficult clinical decisions imposed by stretched resources or for errors borne out of the incredible and cumulative stresses which they have been working under. I suspect that we will be dealing with the regulatory fall-out from this pandemic for several years.
Have any of your working practices changed for the better during the pandemic?
I am fortunate to work with a great team of colleagues. Like many of my colleagues I miss the collegiality of the office but am very happy to have shed the morning commute. The last year has demonstrated the scope for flexible approaches to our work. As a society we have been required to question our conventional approach to doing things and I believe that will yield benefits in the longer term.
Tell us something we might not know about you…
I was interested in infectious disease law before COVID! During the SARS outbreak in 2003 I was based at Toronto General Hospital, undertaking a lab-based postdoctoral research fellowship. That experience sparked an interest in legal preparedness for pandemics. Later, whilst undertaking my law degree, I worked as doctor in a travel medicine clinic and combined my interests in law and infectious diseases by undertaking legal research on the power of detention to control infectious diseases. This led to a paper in the journal Public Health and I also had the pleasure of being the Irish rapporteur for an EU funded project on Pandemic Legal Preparedness.
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