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Coroner writes to NHS after investigation ‘lost sight GP was a human being’

A coroner is writing to NHS England and the GMC expressing ‘concern’ around investigations of GPs with mental health issues, following the death by suicide of a Midlands GP.

Dr Wendy Potts died by suicide in November 2015. She had been subject to investigations - though not by the GMC - following complaints from a patient about her blog on battling bipolar disorder.

Derbyshire’s Assistant Coroner James Newman said that there were ‘concerns these investigations are taking place on a day-to-day basis’.

Weeks after the complaint, the popular 46-year-old was found hanged at her home after telling her partner ‘How can I have been so stupid?’.

Mr Newman said: ‘It seems to me the suspension and investigation was something of a sledgehammer being used to crack a nut.

And he added that ‘no one should forget GPs are doing an incredible job in very difficult circumstances’.

Dr Potts had been suspended by her practice - which was not named - following the patient complaint, but had also been subject to other investigations. It was unclear who was carrying out these investigations.

Her partner Mark St John Jones said Dr Potts had experienced other work-related stresses, including dealing with the death of a patient.

The court heard Dr Potts was under psychiatric care and her medication was increased after the suspension.

Mr Newman had adjourned the earlier hearing to obtain a report relating to Dr Potts’ suspension from work.

After reading all the documents he was clear about the mistakes he believed had been made.

‘The investigation process lost sight that Dr Potts was a human being,” he said.

‘I will be writing to the practice, NHS England and the General Medical Council raising concerns about her situation. It seems it’s not an isolated case.

‘There’s a concern these investigations are taking place on a day-to-day basis.

‘There will be doctors who have mental health issues, but that shouldn’t take away the fact they are doing an incredible job in very difficult circumstances.”

The coroner added: ‘I find that at the time of her death, Dr Potts was under significant pressure both in her private life and due to her significant responsibilities as a GP. This was on a background of her mental health.’

Readers' comments (36)

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  • GPs do not seem to have the same rights as other human beings-we are viewed like a "sub-human class", perceived as "worthless and valueless".

    TO ALL TRAINEES-PLEASE NEVER BECOME A GP-DO NOT RUIN YOUR WHOLE LIFE SACRIFICING IT FOR AN UNGRATEFUL AND VINDICTIVE GOVERNMENT.

    PLEASE-WHILE YOU HAVE A CHANCE, A CHOICE.....GET OUT

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  • I think that comments from the GMC are warranted so that we might regain or obtain confidence in their procedures. Differentiation between the culpable and thedeliberate needs to be made very early on. The principle of innocent till proven guilty needs to be very obvious and genuine.
    The role of the systemic failures needs to be made very very clear especially in these days of increasing demand and relatively diminishing resources.

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  • 100% condolences for this poor GP's family.

    Experience of new support line isn't 100% either 8 weeks for face 2 face assessment.

    Even when you have a relevant PMH.

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  • The GMC behaves like a machine with Aspergers - totally insensitive to the fallibility and vulnerability of GPs. It is so extremely patient-biased that it may eventually completely erode doctors' morale to an extent that it will itself pose a threat to the profession.

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  • Hi there - just to be clear, this particular doctor was not subject to a GMC investigation

  • It is clear that we're not considered to be human. That is why we can be expected to work 8-8 for 7 days per week . Without making mistakes . Or eating . Or sleeping.
    No doubt we will be replaced by robots as soon as it is expedient. Just don't treat us like mechanoids yet.

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  • Who wants to be a GP when the attitude adopted by the GMC and NHS England is 'guilty until proven innocent'

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  • Well done to the coroner for not allowing a whitewash here; It's very sad for the affected late GP and her partner - but does anybody give a damn - sadly I think not.

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  • asking for med3 from her would have been better than suspension and would have given her time to think what to do next.

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  • Tragic. The regulators just don't get it. Doctors ARE patients. We have the same frailties as everyone else. If you cut us we bleed. If you threaten us, we are afraid. The big untold story here is multiple jeopardy. I know of no other group of people who can be subject to so many different inquisitions from so many groups that can threaten your career. GMC, NHSE, PAG, Ombudsman, CQC, no-win no-fee lawyers to name but a few. This can drag on for years so it's hardly surprising that harm results. No-one trusts the regulators any more. We need reform.

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  • Another point is whether this sort of case amounts to corporate manslaughter, I know gmc were not involved here in this case but there are I believe about 29 doctors deaths that were related in some way to gmc:ftp enquiries, I believe that someone on authority should be held accountable for at least some of those deaths,
    Deeply sad and my thoughts are with this poor doctor's family and friends today

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  • So glad to read this. She was our GP retainer then salaried dr for years before leaving to become a partner nearby. She was a lovely person and a great GP, popular with patients and staff; this was a tragedy. RIP Wendy

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  • ULTIMATELY IT WILL ALL GO WRONG-THIS COUNTRY WILL SIMPLY RUN OUT OF GPs-THEN ALL THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN AGGRESSIVELY BULLYING GPs WILL HAVE SOME SERIOUS QUESTIONS TO ANSWER.

    THERE SHOULD BE A PUBLIC INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF GPs-A RANGE OF POTENTIAL OUTCOMES FROM AN ENQUIRY MAY RESULT EG IN OTHER SCANDALS ENQUIRIES HAVE CONCLUDED "UNLAWFUL KILLING THROUGH GROSS NEGLIGENCE" AND RESULTED IN PROSECUTIONS BUT NO SUCH ENQUIRIES WOULD EVER BE PERMITTED IN THE MIRKY WORLD OF MEDICINE-THERE IS SOMETHING SERIOUSLY WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY.

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  • We work in a biased society.
    At one hand we are advised to be empathetic to patients but when we become ill.the attitude towards you is as if you have committed murder.

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  • no other profession is treated as guilty until proven innocent. Dr's have no human rights and we need to fight back to ensure no one is suspended or made to feel like a criminal until the cases has been fully investigated. The letter that comes through the door clearly states "your revalidation is on hold while we investigate you". This needs to stop. if you are an appraiser or do any work for NHSE and you get a complaint, you can no longer work for them while under investigation. This can go on for years. This is not fair and against any human rights. This needs to stop now.

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  • Vinci Ho

    I would go back to the principle and spirit of Common Law which is what we believe in western democracy: presumed innocent until proven guilty, hence any punitive measure only follows after an evidence-based judgement.
    People seem to , however, forget that in running regulatory bodies . Thanks to Mr Newman , reminding us that this principle is one fundamental right of a human being in our society .

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  • One thing I gained after becoming gp, lost trust in human beings. Human beings are very very clever and can do anything to hurt gps. Gps are genius pure soul and true human beings. Long live gps and short live the one who are hurting gps.

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  • Council of Despair

    sadly, we need to blame ourselves - if we keep complaining but do nothing then is it a surprise when we are treated badly?

    we look to our leaders and they do not care as it doesn't affect them - their priority is the NHS

    we look to politicians and they don't care as we are conveniant scapegoats for their policy errors

    we look to each other - but we are told we must report our colleagues otherwise we breach GMC guidelines so we are all scared and end up looking over our shoulders.

    we look to the media but they don't care as long as they make money

    we look to the public but they don't care as it's doctor heal thy self.

    what will it take for us as a group to start taking some action for our own health and well being? How doctors have to turn to drugs, alcohol, suicide before we start looking after our own? How can we recommend the profession to youngsters when we know what is really going on?

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  • It was an absolute disgrace the way she was treated. My most heartfelt condolences to her family and friends.

    From reading the article, it seems she did not do anything wrong to warrant a suspension and investigation.

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  • Editor's comments

    Hi there - just to be clear, this particular doctor was not subject to a GMC investigation

    in response to the above comment- i'm pretty sure that the particular Dr was afraid of being referred to the GMC.This is enough to push anyone already close to the edge over it.the threat of a GMC referral has ruined many lives and careers.

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  • It certainly is a tragic waste of a caring doctor who, like us all, had her known frailties. It is more tragic that she didn't feel confident enough to confide in her colleagues. That being said it's fine to apparently be seen to be supportive but when it comes to it then the NIMBY syndrome suddenly applies! Thankfully there are occasional exceptions to that rule. We don't look after our own enough because no one else will and I speak from personal experience and am now better being a 'normal ' patient when the need arises. Oh yes! I was only a GP for 39 years before retiring so I'm probably not classified as human yet!

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  • The loss of this dear GP is unimaginable and my heart goes out to the family, friends and all those connected to her.
    Suicide is preventable; plain and simple...
    A system that does not put the safeguards through recognition, engagement, response and support is failing our profession.
    Simply recognising and assuming that the risk exists through engagement in EVERY situation like this is a start and delivering a response for EVERYONE commensurate with their need can be lifesaving...
    Almost everyone going through a challenging situation like this, remembering that the degree of challenge is subjective, will have thoughts of wanting to die, to varying degrees, depending on the individual.

    I think ALL GPs should have personalised SAFETY PLANS permanently in place which should evolve and develop over time.

    Positive steps to reducing the risk of suicide in GPs but also all professions and the public can be taken ....

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  • Well done Coroner. Although the GMC was not involved in this case they have largely been responsible over the last ten years or so for creating the witch finding atmosphere, the guilty until proven innocent process , the unimpeded self righteous destruction of lives that we have had to live through. Although they are now beginning to clean out their befouled stable they have yet to apologise.

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  • AlanAlmond

    I wish nothing but to send love to this woman, her family and everyone who cared about her.

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  • Maverick

    What a terrible tragedy.
    My thoughts now are with Dr Potts' family and friends. She is irreplaceable. Her death was avoidable. Many stand culpable but they will avoid investigation and prosecution because the current NHS structure protects them and not Dr Potts.
    The pages of comments generated by this heartrending article sum up what is wrong with General Practice in 2017. Once again I ask "who is listening?"
    Pulse is a publication that purports to support GPs. I would suggest that the editor of Pulse takes the comments generated by this article along with the comments generated by countless other articles protesting the abuse of GPs to Parliament. How about setting up a petition of protest and asking Pulse readership to sign a motion of no confidence in JH and all the other management organisations which suck enormous amounts of funding from primary care with no proven benefit. You could step up to the plate and lead this protest. You read the comments. You know what your readership really thinks. You moderate comments. Please don't moderate this one. GPs need a focused publication for their voice truly to be heard. They have a multitude of organisations who claim to work for their benefit (RCGP, NHSE, GPC, HEE, CCGs, CQC, LMCs etc and on and on) but clearly none of them gives a shit. Has the editor of pulse made anyone with any influence aware of grassroots GP opinion? Time to stand up and be counted. What do practising GPs think?

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  • This is a very odd report. It seems almost designed to generate (potentially damaging) speculation.

    It states that Potts:

    "…had been subject to investigations - though not by the GMC - following complaints from a patient about her blog on battling bipolar disorder."

    It goes on to say that the coroner

    "…will be writing to the practice, NHS England and the General Medical Council raising concerns about her situation."

    Which raises all sorts of questions - to the extent that it invites speculation. What will he say to the practice, to NHS England, and to the GMC?

    If the GMC weren't investigating, why is he writing to them? And who was investigating her? NCAS? If so, why didn't he say he was writing to them?

    If GMC wasn't investigating Potts, what other reason would he have for writing to them? Is he referring somebody to the GMC, in which case, who?

    The report states that the practice had suspended Potts, and that the coroner had said

    "It seems to me the suspension and investigation was something of a sledgehammer being used to crack a nut."

    So he appears to have criticised the practice - was he writing to the GMC to refer partners? (I have no reason, other than this vague report, to think that is what he was doing; but from this report it's reasonable to conclude he could be.)

    I wonder whether the coroner had actually been so irresponsible as to make a statement that would invite such speculation. Or did Pulse précis things down to an extent that the meaning - originally clear - was obfuscated, leaving us all speculating.

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  • doctors dont treat doctors well
    its sad but true

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  • doctors shouldn't be so scared of patient complaints and patients should be freer to find a different doctor if they don't like the one they have

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  • GP abc

    I recently had a relapse of my bipolar disorder when I became hypomanic.I was admitted to hospital and made a good recovery.I was reported to the GMC and after 6 months they are still doing initial investigations into my fitness to practice.The GMC have reported me to the Performance Advisory Group to see if I can remain on the Performers' List and thus be allowed to continue working.I don't think that the GMC or NHS England have learnt from this sad case.

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  • Just a reminder - it is NOT just NHS etc who dont care it is YOU. I have just had the "green socks clause" pulled on me after a breavement and taking 10 days off following some very hard personal issues. My Partners felt this was not a "steady road" for them to continue with me. I would like all "potential GPs to realise as a Partner this clause allows you to be removed with absolutely NO PROTECTION from the BMA or employment law.So whilst all of you feel so put upon by the Government etc just look to yourselves and your own attitudes.

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  • be single handed. 90% gmc referrals are done by other partners. even if they dont give you one month wage, it will be a big saving for them (other partners). everything arises from ego, greed and laziness and from corrupt genes in some cases.

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  • Will you be more depressed before GMC hearing or after GMC visit?
    will you be more suicidal before death or after death?

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  • If the BMA was any use it would do something about the 12 hour, stressful day. I think they are to blame, they are supposed to be our union.
    Working like this causes more mistakes , more physical illness and more mental illness. It is completely unacceptable.

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  • We are not human. We're glorified slaves.

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  • Cobblers

    Untermensch. That is what we are in the eyes of Politicians, GMC et all.

    I feel a profound sadness that this vulnerable person chose such a demanding career and that it required the ultimate sacrifice.

    Will it change things? No, I doubt it.

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  • I too have been subjected to one of these unsympathetic and unjustified investigations, for, ... asking for help!
    (is it safe to admit that?)
    not GMC, but I felt the investigators were not even listening to, certainly lacking practical advice, and felt extreme lack of support, but more animosity.
    That's probably enough to get me investugated again!

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