More doctors face suspension as managers flex their muscles

BMJ 1998; 317 doi: (Published 24 October 1998) Cite this as: BMJ 1998;317:1101

Suspensions of doctors are soaring--some say as much as 10-fold if informal exclusions are included. But are suspensions a robust reaction to the government's demand for higher clinical standards, or are “trigger happy” trust managers overreacting in the wake of the inquiry into the deaths of 29 babies who had heart surgery in Bristol? Hilary Bower investigates

According to Dr Peter Tomlin, secretary of the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists' study group, which has tracked doctors' suspensions for 13 years, the trend is obvious: “It is my strong impression that there only needs to be a mere whisper of a complaint from anyone and there is a suspension before any investigation has taken place.”

Certainly the figures are staggering. According to the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists, more than 45 doctors have been excluded from work so far this year. This is over four times the rate of previous years--at least 35 exclusions in the past three months.

Equally worrying, says Dr Peter Schütte, medicolegal adviser for the Medical Defence Union, is the leap in informal exclusions whereby doctors are asked to take sick, study, or holiday leave. “About half of all suspensions are now informal. My impression is that the increase is closer to a 10-fold increase if these are included,” he said.

According to Dr Tomlin, suspensions started to snowball as evidence from the Bristol inquiry--which found two surgeons guilty …

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