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My ordeal at the GMC after 40 blameless years of practice

Dr Michael Silver is the latest GP to have a GMC verdict of serious professional misconduct against him overturned ­ here he tells his story, and stresses how angry he feels

ntil four-and-a-half years ago I was a contented GP, happy to keep working until I was 70. I was proud of my time in general practice, and I felt I had done a good job.

In 40 years I had never had a complaint against me, so it was with surprise and shock that I received a letter from the aggrieved daughter of a very nice elderly patient complaining of my lack of care towards her mother.

The complaint was that her mother had been visited by two doctors from Healthcall (now Primecare) who had failed to diagnose a fractured neck of femur following a fall. Instead they had diagnosed a urinary tract infection.

The daughter felt, in view of the fact that her mother had been my patient for many years, I should have visited in person. The letter informed me the family was going to complain to the GMC.

I sought the advice of the MPS and wrote a letter of regret to the family, approved by the MPS, explaining I was not actually at work when these events occurred, but I would take the matter up with Healthcall, which I did. In due course I received a letter from the daughter saying she was going to drop the complaint. I received no further communications, and felt this was the end of a distressing episode.

A year passed. Then I received a communication from the GMC. They told me I was to be charged with serious professional misconduct. The charges were totally different from the original complaint. They concentrated around failure to visit. They were based on a statement by the son, namely that one of my receptionists had told him we didn't do home visits.

This particular receptionist had left the practice, and we were unable to trace her. But everybody who knew her said she would never have said a thing like this, knowing it to be untrue.

There then followed two-and-a-half years of terrible stress leading up to the hearing. I started to exhibit the symptoms of depression. I began to understand how doctors in similar situations could take their lives.

It was particularly distressing to have to notify the GMC of all the work I did outside the practice. I am involved in occupational medicine, and all the companies I advise, including our local hospital, were notified I was under investigation.

Eventually I was told of the date of the hearing and received a further set of charges from solicitors acting for the GMC. Again these were significantly different from those originally sent.

My wife, who clearly was sharing the trauma of the case, was becoming distraught at the way these events were taking over our lives. I should underline at this stage how difficult it is trying to remember events that have occurred three-and-a-half years ago. We felt we had done nothing wrong, and were both aghast to hear from our barrister that, even if my staff and myself were indeed shown to be blameless, we were unlikely to escape the hearing unscathed.

Whatever stress we were under leading up to the hearing paled into insignificance compared with the misery of the hearing itself, which lasted four days. These long days were spent in examination and cross-examination and endless waits in a small room while the committee deliberated.

The only witness for the GMC was proved to be a liar, but when our barrister pleaded that the case should be stopped, the committee decided to continue.

The cross-examination of our practice secretary and a receptionist was particularly aggressive. The two women had come to the GMC to reassure the committee that my practice did indeed have systems in place to deal with requests for home visits.

Under the pressure of cross-questioning they got into such a state they could not even remember how the telephones were transferred, or that I did a Monday surgery. They were utterly traumatised by the attitude of the committee.

In the end I was forced to stand in front of this committee like a common criminal to hear I had been found guilty. I felt near to breaking down. I thought I was going to be struck off. But the chair said he was going to be lenient. He said I worked in a deprived part of London where I could not obtain medical assistance.

His remarks seemed

to imply that, where I practised, any sort of doctor was better than no doctor. I found this incredibly insulting.

My wife was distressed and tearful. A GMC official gave her a box of tissues. He told her the wives always start to cry at this point. I couldn't believe it. This is supposed to be a caring profession.

My continued registration was conditional on a performance assessment of my practice. Pending the appeal, I had asked our PCT to inspect our practice and they found it better run than most.

I returned to work only to receive a further blow. It devastated my family. We read an article in the local paper

headlined 'Doctor in disgrace' over my photograph. The reporting was inaccurate, but the damage was done. All my patients read this paper.

I felt totally drained and demoralised that 40 years of practice should end like this. On the other hand, I was cheered up by the support I received from my patients. One of them wrote to the GMC describing how I had visited her sick child. You've got it all wrong, she told them.

The appeal against the GMC decision took place three months later. I received the decision of the Privy Council three months after that. The verdict was that the GMC decision could not be sustained and should be set aside.

So I have been found not guilty of the charges laid against me. But I still feel angry. To date the GMC have not apologised to me or to my family for the stress they have put us through, neither have they contacted those who use my professional services as they should do.

My patient was right. The GMC did get it wrong. But I am still suffering and I have nothing but contempt for them.

Although I am 67, I am continuing in general practice because I still love medicine and my patients. It is not general practice I have a quarrel with but organisations like the GMC.

I now doubt the worth of my 40 years of practice, and am no longer unhappy that my son, who qualified in medicine from the London Hospital, did not pursue a medical career.

My ordeal at the GMC after 40 blameless years of practice

A GMC official said that the wives always start to cry at this point~

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