• Royal College of Pathologists president-elect Peter Furness has been barred from holding office for three years
  • Follows allegations of misconduct after formal complaint made
  • Process has been a “painful one”, says college president Jo Martin
  • Professor Furness had proposed to “reduce and reform” the college 

A royal college president-elect has been removed from his position and barred from holding office at the organisation for three years following allegations of misconduct.

The Royal College of Pathologists confirmed to HSJ the decision was taken against Peter Furness after a complaint was received last October. This followed the election for the vacant post. 

Professor Furness told fellow college members in correspondence, seen by HSJ, he had been accused of previously publishing “untrue” statements about a member of the college’s senior team, and he had been told his election statement contained information which was both “undermining and derogatory” to staff in general.

Moreover, he said he was alleged to have “harassed and undermined” the competence of a member of the senior management team while he was the director of professional standards.

An investigation was launched and, following a hearing by a disciplinary panel chaired by someone outside the college, the allegations against him were upheld.

College president Jo Martin told members Professor Furness would be blocked from holding office until February 2023. She told HSJ he has written apologies to two individuals who were involved.

She said: “This process has been a painful one for the college and [the] individuals involved, and we have offered our support to all.

“The senior management team at the college raised, on behalf of staff, a number of worries regarding Professor Furness’ statement in support of his nomination. The SMT had rightly made clear the college is run by its trustee board, not one individual.”

Professor Martin added: “No matter how senior the individual, if allegations are made, they will be investigated thoroughly and fairly. If upheld, appropriate action will be taken.

“The college must be a place where members and staff are treated with respect.”

Professor Furness, who was previously RCPath president from 2008 to 2011, said the college’s SMT had expressed a number of concerns about his election statement.

In it, he proposed to “cut back on its core function of defining and maintaining quality”, including shrinking staffing and committee structure, changing its name to the Royal College of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine or similar, and “reinstate the old rule [which was] lost in the constitutional reforms of 2013” under which sequential college presidents were from different specialities. 

He described his agenda as to “reduce and reform” the college, saying it was “controversial”. 

He also said the college’s SMT raised concerns to the college’s trustee board about his statement before a formal complaint was lodged.

In his message to the other college members, Professor Furness said the college had informed him a formal complaint had been raised about his behaviour so an investigation had been launched. 

He added: “I contested all the allegations but the panel concluded that the allegations against me were all supported, and that the appropriate sanction will be to bar me from holding college office for three years.

“I have found this process to be extremely distressed and I do not wish to discuss it further.”

Professor Furness later said he has resigned his membership from the college, “which [he] found sad but no great loss”.

According to Professor Martin, Professor Furness is not intending to appeal the decision, 

The timetable for the presidential election, and the election of vice presidents, is expected shortly.