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At the heart of general practice since 1960

PCT attacked for hounding GP to death

By Craig Kenny

The partners of a GP found hanged after he was investigated for high referral rates have denounced their PCT for 'hounding' him and 'looking only at numbers'.

Dr Stephen Farley, described by colleagues as 'the most caring GP you can imagine', was told in December he must submit to a mentoring programme.

He went sick with depression two weeks later and was found dead in the barn behind his house last week.

The NHS has announced an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding his death.

Charnwood and North West Leicestershire PCT has defended its investigation, arguing the practice's referral rate was 'extreme'.

Dr Farley's partners at the practice in Ibstock, Leicestershire, told Pulse there was no evidence he had referred inappropriately.

One partner, who asked not to be named, said Dr Farley was a 'disease magnet' with a heavy caseload of elderly and chronically ill patients.

They accused the University of Leicester postgraduate deanery, brought in by the trust to review Dr Farley, of not doing enough to evaluate his decisions on a case-by-case basis and relying on crude 48-hour discharge statistics.

'Steve had every patient written down, why they were admitted, but nobody would look at the book,' said the partner. 'We discussed every case at a partnership meeting, and everything Steve said seemed eminently reasonable.'

He added: 'He was a bloody good GP, a walking encyclopaedia, a very intelligent guy and the most caring GP you can imagine.'

In his report, Dr Justin Allen, director of postgraduate general practice education, said Dr Farley should have a mentor to help him 'develop strategies to deal with excessive demand and personal workload'.

Practice manager Charles Jones said this 'undermined [Dr Farley's] credibility ­ he said he found it difficult to cope with'. A GP colleague added: 'He got quieter and quieter and he did go off sick.'

Mr Jones said the practice felt the trust was 'hounding' Dr Farley.

In a written statement, Charnwood and North West Leicestershire PCT chief executive Andrew Clarke said the practice had agreed to the deanery review. The deanery refused to comment.

Countdown to tragedy

January 2001 PCG first raises issue of high urgent referrals; Dr Farley goes off sick with depression

January 2003 Practice asked to submit data to PCT

July 2003 Dr Farley's referrals examined at a partnership meeting on case-by-case basis; partners are satisfied with his decisions; practice is asked if it would submit to independent review by the deanery

November 19, 2003 Director of postgraduate GP education visits to discuss referral rates

December 2, 2003 Deanery report concludes that

Dr Farley should have a personal mentor to help him deal with 'excessive workload'

December 15, 2003 Dr Farley goes off sick

December 22, 2003 Practice asks PCT chief executive to intervene and investigate the manner in which the review was undertaken

January 23, 2004 Dr Farley is found hanged

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