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A PCT has been criticised by an external inquiry into events leading to the death of a GP earlier this year ­ by Nerys Hairon

A GP who was found hanged was pursued by his PCT over high referral rates despite concerns over his ill-health, an external inquiry concludes.

Dr Stephen Farley, a GP in Ibstock, Leicestershire, was found dead in January this year after investigations into his high urgent referral rates over a three-year period.

In its report on the events leading to Dr Farley's death, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland strategic health authority criticised Charnwood and North West Leicestershire PCT for failing to resolve Dr Farley's health problems before tackling performance issues.

Dr Farley, described by colleagues as the 'most caring GP you can imagine', went on sick leave in late 2000 and again in December 2003 after his referral rate was questioned. After his death, Dr Farley's partners denounced the trust for 'hounding' him.

The report found shortcomings in the handling of the referral investigation and the 'excessive length of time' it took. It said it had been appropriate for the PCG and PCT to ask questions, but that the 'magnitude of the health problems being experienced by Dr Farley was not always recognised and acted upon'.

Concerns over Dr Farley's health may not have been passed from PCG to PCT, it said.

The report claimed Dr Farley's partners should have done more to raise concerns about his ill-health and taken steps to ensure he was not overworked.

Dr Clare Boothroyd, a member of the panel and assistant secretary of Warwickshire LMC (south), said some GPs needed to be 'protected from themselves', as Dr Farley appeared to have taken the process very personally.

In a statement, Dr Farley's former partners said Dr Farley's health problems were 'directly attributable' to the PCG and PCT intervention.

The partners said the data used by the trust to launch the investigation should 'never have been used to launch a clinical governance inquiry'.

Key recommendations

·PCT inquiries should give precedence to checking the health of those involved

·PCTs must ensure all relevant information is available to investigators, especially regarding periods of ill-health

·PCTs should ensure the basis for actions is clearly understood by all involved

·It should be appreciated that investigations into clinical practice are formal and will have a significant impact on the individual concerned

·When external parties are involved, there must be the clear, written agreement of all parties

·Practices have a responsibility to respond positively and constructively to inquiries concerning clinical practice

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