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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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