Intended for healthcare professionals


Suspension of doctors

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 22 January 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:181
  1. Duncan Empey, honorary professor (
  1. Centre for Healthcare Planning and Management, Keele University, Barts and the London NHS Trust, London Chest Hospital, London E2 9JX

    The process is badly handled at present, and new guidance is welcome

    For any employee to be excluded from work is a devastating blow, whatever the circumstances. In the case of doctors the safety of patients may be a justifiable reason, but the process that leads to that decision is not straightforward and in many cases the individuals concerned, their colleagues, and the patients feel confused and uninformed.

    A recent report from the National Audit Office has confirmed what many suspected and some have suffered at first hand—that the process of suspension has to date been haphazard and badly handled in many NHS organisations.1 Following this report comes new guidance from the Department of Health, contained in a direction to NHS trusts that has to be applied to all suspensions.

    The report from the National Audit Office is forthright about the expensive and damaging consequences that result when suspensions are performed badly. The numbers involved are hard to ascertain, but estimates indicate that at any one time in the past three years more than 30 doctors were suspended for six months or more, and between April 2001 and July 2002, 206 doctors were suspended by NHS trusts in England, with 44% (90) of these suspensions said to be related to issues of professional competence. Costs are estimated at around £29m ($54.5m; €42m) each year for the NHS as a whole. …

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