Tragic GP struggled with workload prior to suicide
By Nigel PraitiesA GP whose death has stunned his countryside practice was struggling to cope with the pressure of work, an inquest has been told.Dr Martin Webster, a partner at the New Springwells Practice, near Grantham, Lincolnshire, had been ‘in a low mood' before he was found hanged at his home last year, his wife told the inquest last week.The 53-year-old GP had just attended the death of a patient, and was on compassionate leave at the time, following the death of his father the previous month. His body was discovered hanging in the garage of his home together with a written note in the early hours of January 3, by his wife, Sharon.His wife said paperwork from his job was getting her husband down and he suffered from dystonia, a condition which affected his hands. Dr Webster had been treated for depression by a psychiatrist in 2005 because he ‘felt down' as a result of his job. The following year he took a three-month sabbatical in Switzerland, but soon began feeling depressed again on his return, the inquest heard.A post-mortem found the cause of death was hanging, but the blood-alcohol level was three times the drink-drive limit. Because of this, the coroner Gordon Ryall said he could not record a suicide verdict and an open verdict was given.‘Without the presence of alcohol there is a question of whether he would have done it,' he said.Christine Schofield, practice manager at New Springwells Practice, said everyone at the practice had been devastated and were all trying to move on after his sudden death.‘Our memories are of a humorous and witty colleague who was always there if we needed support. ‘Dr Webster had been a family doctor in the local community of Rippingale and the surrounding area for many years. He was a very dedicated, kind and caring doctor whose patients have described him as a major personality in the community. Dr Claire Gerada, RCGP vice-chair and medical director of the Practitioner Health Programme in London, said being a doctor was a stressful profession and doctors were very bad at asking for help.‘Doctors can have very high risk mental health problems. But they self-exclude from treatment centres for mental health and are excluded by this view that doctors cannot also be patients,' she said.Where GPs can go for help There are a number of organisations GPs can turn to if they find themselves under extreme stress or are having difficulties.Confidential advice can be sought from the BMA-run Doctors for Doctors service (08459 200 169; www.bma.org.uk/doctorsfordoctors), which can help with a wide range of problems, such as drug and alcohol problems, bullying at work or mental health issues.The Practitioner Health Programme (020 3049 4505; www.php.nhs.uk) is a free, confidential service for doctors who can provide treatment for mental or physical health concerns or addiction problems. Other organisations who can help include the Doctors Support Network (0870 765 0001; www.dsn.org.uk) or the Sick Doctors Trust for those with dependency problems (0870 444 5163; www.sick-doctors-trust.co.uk).