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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)

  • 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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