A sexual allegation was registered as a complaint with the police by a teenager who had received sedation (Midazolam and Fentanyl) for a dental procedure. The alleged incident was reported to have occurred in the recovery room of a private dental unit within an NHS hospital. The police directed its inquiry towards the anaesthetist, despite identification evidence pointing away from him. Then, in his interview, the police mentioned Harold Shipman and left him feeling that he was being compared with this infamous doctor. The NHS Trust excluded him from work despite having no concerns of their own and despite his longstanding exemplary service; they did not consider alternatives to exclusion such as working with a chaperone or working on audit/research projects; he was isolated, and this contributed to the spread of rumours about his character.
Then social services got involved; they asked his young son to stay away from his father and asked the doctor to move out from his own home. They even informed the son's school about the allegations. At one stage, after a phone call from the police, the doctor informed his employer and his family that the investigating police officer had said that there was "no case to answer" and that the allegation would not be proceeding any further. However in the meanwhile, without informing him, the police referred the doctor to the GMC. The Trust was aware of this referral but also did not inform him or offer any support in relation to this. The Trust set a date when he could come back to work. However, they then at the last moment decided to extend his exclusion without any new reasons and despite the doctor being eager to return to work. Out of the blue, the doctor received an email from the GMC asking him to attend a tribunal hearing that could result in suspension of his registration. He received the email when he was at home alone and shortly before his son was expected back from school, which meant that he had to leave the house because of the conditions imposed by social services. Shortly thereafter, he ended his life.
The family believe that the police failed to close the investigation against the doctor despite realising almost from the beginning that the identification evidence in their possession pointed away from the consultant. They did not cease their investigation even when they realised that the description of the alleged perpetrator which the patient had given was in fact quite different to the appearance of the consultant. Despite being informed the police also failed to take into account the fact that the medication given to the complainant as part of the anaesthetic procedure is known to result in sexual hallucinations.
The police then referred the doctor to the GMC, triggering correspondence with him that proved to be the last straw and the family believe that this ultimately resulted in him ending his life. The GMC referral seems to have been made towards the end of the police investigation when it was apparent that there was little evidence against the doctor which would justify charges being brought. Furthermore, the information provided to the GMC by the police comprised a simple precis of the original allegation, without making it clear that the evidence collected thus far did not support the allegations against this doctor.
The police did not wait until their investigations were complete before making a referral to the GMC. The police did not appear to follow any formal protocol or screening criteria appear to exist for deciding which case involving a doctor should be referred to the GMC.
There is an urgent need for proper training of police and proper procedures to be put in place to prevent flawed allegations against doctors being poorly investigated and arbitrary referrals being made to other agencies such as the GMC and social services, thus resulting in immeasurable stress to a doctor and damage to his reputation. It is therefore hoped by the family that the Coroner will make appropriate recommendations at the conclusion of the inquest into the doctor’s death.
The family believe that the GMC decision to summon a doctor to a tribunal before police investigations were completed was a knee jerk reaction. Further enquiries with the police should have occurred before contact was made with the doctor. The 2014 Sarndrah Horsfall Report commissioned by GMC highlights significant suicide rates amongst doctors undergoing GMC investigations and it made recommendations about GMC communications with doctors. The family calls for the GMC to be more critical in how it deals with referrals from the police. Evidence from the GMC’s own database shows that flawed referrals are most likely to come from the police, yet this did not seem to impact on how the GMC handled this case. In this case, the GMC was also in possession of the referral for around a fortnight but made no effort to properly weigh up the evidence or any risk that this doctor posed. The family believe that allegations of sexual misconduct against doctors should be taken seriously by the GMC but that this should be balanced with safeguarding the doctor’s wellbeing by carrying out proper enquiries prior to making contact with the doctor. The family also wish to see the GMC issue guidance which informs and protects doctors who deal with medication that may be associated with sexual hallucinations. In this instance, the GMC sent two simultaneous letters to the consultant at the same time, one saying he was being investigated and the other calling him to a hearing.
The GMC appeared to fail to follow the Sarndrah Horsfall report recommendation that “doctors under investigation should feel they are treated as ‘innocent until proven guilty’”. In this case, the doctor was summoned to a tribunal hearing before the police investigation was complete and while the doctor was excluded from clinical practice by his Trust. Given the threat of suspension contained within the GMC communication, he appeared to be treated as guilty rather than innocent. The family believe that given the fear that the latter would cause, it should have been delayed at least until the police investigation was complete. The GMC should take a more humane approach in communicating with doctors, particularly doctors who are already under stress. For example, it would be helpful to have an informal visit by a GMC liaison officer, or a phone call or a video call in advance, so that any concerns or anxieties can be dealt with. There should also be a similar personal communication before the written communication is received by the doctor, as doctors may be in such a state of shock after receiving such a communication that they may fail to read all of the content of the communication or may misread part of it.
The family state that the Trust rushed into excluding the doctor. The Trust’s actions isolated him by failing to consider alternative courses of action that would allow him to stay in contact with his peers and receive support while at the same time ensuring patient safety. The Trust also declined the doctor’s request to be allowed to return, apparently claiming that it was in the doctor’s own interest not to return.
The family are also disappointed by the level of support offered by the Trust to the doctor and the fact that their knowledge of the decision to refer to the GMC was not communicated with him in advance so that appropriate professional support systems could have been put in place along with support systems that family itself could have prepared.
The family believe that the actions of the social services amounted to intrusion into the doctor’s personal and family life, without sufficient regard to the distress the doctor and his family would suffer. They acted as though the allegation was true, they totally lacked compassion towards the doctor and his family, particularly his young son. Not only did social services place restrictions on the doctor, they also contacted the school which his son attended. They failed to take into account the good character or social and professional standing of the doctor. Discussing the allegation privately with a young teenage son adversely affected the doctor as a father. The family would like social services to draw up appropriate protocol of dealing with police referrals where the allegation is unsupported by evidence and there need to be training and accountability of social service officers.
Contributions to support this legal representation can be sent to
Name : Protecting medics from tragedies (Community Trust)
Sort Code = 40-43-11
Account Number = 22068702