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Partnership may be going to pot

I am the youngest of three partners and we take it in turn to deal with complaints.

These go to the practice manager who passes them to the complaints partner for advice. It is now my turn. One of our patients, a solicitor, is neighbour to our middle partner, the latter being a pretty laid-back guy. The solicitor says he has seen our partner smoking cannabis in his garden, and he is certain the offending weed is being grown in my partner's greenhouse. He wants action or the police will be involved. What do I do next?

GP's advice

Is your patient being spiteful?

What, for goodness sake, is this man's problem? And I don't mean your partner. Presumably you would have noticed if his work was suffering due to his being blissed-out rather than just laid-back. This smells like spite on your solicitor-patient's part. I wonder if your partner is having an affair with the solicitor's wife, or has objected to his building a conservatory, and the solicitor is venting his spleen by trying to compromise your partner's position at work.

The unstated allegation that your partner could be a drug dealer has to be taken seriously, and remember the tolerance extended to the typical adolescent pot-smoker may not stretch as far as supposedly respectable GPs.

Show the letter to your partner, confidentially, and make it clear you cannot ignore it. Ask whether any of it is true. Perhaps your partner is banned from smoking in his own house and has taken up cultivating greenhouse tomatoes. Possibly the whole complaint is fabricated, in which case deal with this patient as you would with any other frivolous complainant.

If your partner admits he grows, or even merely smokes, cannabis, he is breaking the law and it is a partnership issue. With the support of your manager and other partner, tell him in writing that he must stop or he will be expelled from the partnership, offer him the numbers of support services for GPs with substance misuse problems, and set a follow-up date.

If nothing else, this will remind him to be more circumspect and give him an opportunity to clear any illicit vegetation from his greenhouse.

GP's advice

Should you report your partner?

No wonder your partner is so laid back. While the police are lenient with those who smoke cannabis in private, the law is very much against cannabis cultivators. It does at least seem that your solicitor patient, who knows the law very well, is prepared to give his errant neighbour a chance to clean up his act.

This is definitely one to discuss with your senior partner. You should both decide whether you have a duty to report the matter. Have your cannabis smoking partner's actions had an adverse effect on his patients? Are there any suspicions that he could be using other illegal drugs? Have you checked your practice drug stocks for discrepancies? Assuming he carries out his partnership duties effectively, and can satisfy you that cannabis smoking is his only illegal vice, you may decide he deserves the chance to stop.

Your senior partner needs a firm but 'off the record' word with the partner concerned. The partner concerned must be told in no uncertain terms his behaviour not only puts his career at risk but also reflects very badly on the partnership. He must stop at once. An unsatisfactory response should trigger a whistleblowing approach.

Your practice manager will also have to agree with the action planned. You cannot keep this quiet if the practice manager does not.

Finally, your senior partner should arrange a meeting with the solicitor to assure him action has been taken and to thank him for his tactful information. Your partner is very lucky and should be grateful.

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