Intended for healthcare professionals

Rapid response to:

Editorials

Suicide in doctors while under fitness to practise investigation

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h813 (Published 13 February 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h813

Rapid Response:

An Unsent Suicide Note to the GMC

The only time in my life that I have considered suicide was when I was under investigation by the GMC. I was cared for by my excellent GP and received Trauma Psychotherapy from a Consultant Psychologist throughout the ordeal.

Because of the allegations, I was forced before an Interim Orders Panel who are required to treat the doctor as “Guilty until Proved Innocent” “For the safety of the public”. Only after a hearing by the Investigation Committee where I was given a warning, did I discover documentary evidence that would have supported my belief that I was and am innocent of the charges.

The Investigation Committee (a GMC, not an MPTS institution) “flipped” the burden of proof. If someone says without corroboration that I have done something and I deny it, if the burden of proof lies with the accuser, proof has not legally been established and I am not guilty. In my case the Investigation Committee actually criticized me for failing to attempt to prove my innocence against coordinated but uncorroborated allegations!

Throughout the process, my Medical Defence Organisation wanted to contain its costs and so had an interest in getting me to accept (or have imposed) a warning for allegations I continue to deny. If I seek a review, according to their website, I risk losing indemnity cover.

I recall considering that, provided I wrote a suitable suicide statement, any Fatal Accident Inquiry would be duty bound to investigate what I believed (and continue to believe) was a conspiracy to mislead the GMC and damage me. My wife’s love and support together with her understanding of GMC incompetence (she is a Senior HR professional and so has been involved in planning and carrying out similar investigations) saw me through the dark days by changing my view of the GMC from seeing it as a regulator to protect patients, to understanding it as an out of touch institution that colludes with the NHS establishment to quash perceived dissidence.

It is the policy of the MPTS and the GMC to treat accused doctors as guilty until proved innocent and to ignore their health (No one ever enquired of mine). In the print edition, the BMJ highlights that “The investigation also noted that doctors under review” felt guilty until found innocent”. It is hardly surprising that intelligent professionals entrapped by an abusive system (I was questioned critically by a committee member for taking medication to permit me to attend my grandson’s funeral) recognise the GMC & MPTS policy of presumed guilt and consider the options that might best serve their families and patients in the long term.

Had I taken my life, the key document would have been the note I left explaining myself in terms similar to this. Is the GMC prepared to audit the suicide notes of the colleagues it has hounded to their deaths?

Competing interests: I have been issued a warning by the GMC for allegations I continue to deny

28 February 2015
Andrew J Ashworth
General Practitioner
Bonhard House, Bo'ness, EH51 9RR