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Independents' Day

My years of stress over a complaint

A young male patient under my care for depression died following an overdose of the tricyclic antidepressant I had prescribed. I had clearly recorded that he was not suicidal when I saw him. His friends and workmates had not noticed he was outwardly depressed.

Unfortunately, at the rather too informal inquest it was not really made clear to his parents that there was no indication my patient had intended suicide, although it may have been spur of the moment. The pathologist at the inquest stated my patient died from an overdose of dothiepin but did not reveal that not only had my patient been drinking alcohol, he had also taken cannabis, diazepam and bizarrely metronidazole which adversely reacts with alcohol.

Following the inquest the parents complained about my treatment of their son. Despite my sympathetic full explanation, they proceded to pursue the complaint through the informal process. The parents lived in the north of England and refused to come to this area, also they communicated via an intermediary who was a friend or relative. The community health council was unhelpful to me and at times I felt it tried to fan the flames to keep the process and their own jobs going.

I restated the facts in full on at least three occasions until an out-of-county concilliator travelled the length and breadth of the country to see all the parties and obtained an independent medical opinion which backed me up.

In all the process lasted about two years, with the complainants given leave to proceed at least twice with an out-of-time appeal. So twice when I thought it was all over I received a letter out of the blue stating that the complainants were still not satisfied. While I was sorry about what had happened, I felt I had been subjected to unnecessary worry and stress which I felt should have been dealt with quickly and I hope amicably at a neutral halfway house soon after the complaint was received.

There should be a law obliging the complainant to come to a hearing when and where directed by the conciliator or they should be directed to drop the complaint.

Dr Richard Reubin


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