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Independents' Day

GP trainee died by suicide after fearing GMC suspension

A newly qualified GP voted ‘Trainee GP of the Year’ hanged himself after fearing he would be struck off by the GMC for failing an alcohol test, an inquest heard.

Dr James Halcrow, 34, had been warned by the GMC not to drink after he self-referred for ‘other issues he was having’, which resulted in restrictions on his practice, the court heard.

This included the GMC imposing a ban on drinking alcohol, but he worried that due to his socialising he might fail a blood test.

His body was found by friends in his apartment in Manchester on 24 June alongside a note that said: ‘I’m sorry.’

The coroner concluded that it was ’reasonable to rely on [a potential GMC suspension] as a factor in James taking his own life’.

Dr Halcrow was voted ’Trainee GP of the Year’ by fellow trainees at the North West Deanery, the court was told.

The inquest heard that Dr Halcrow, who qualified as a GP in 2013, was deeply affected by the restrictions as the ban curbed his normally active social life.

He attended two interviews with the GMC, which went well, but on a third and final interview he said he would drink socially once the restriction was lifted.

Dr Halcrow believed one interviewer had taken a dim view of this and he feared the restrictions wouldn’t be lifted.

He had gone also out with friends and drunk ‘one or two drinks’ during the period of restriction, also knew he may fail an alcohol test because of the social drinking.

After his death, his family learned Dr Halcrow had been made ‘trainee GP of the year’.

Shortly before his death, Dr Halcrow told his friend Paul Fleetwood, who owned the Manchester flat, that he was worried about the restrictions not being lifted, the hearing was told.

He said that in his third interview a psychiatrist had taken a ‘very dim view’ of his admission that he would drink socially if they were lifted.

Reaching a conclusion of suicide, coroner Jean Harkin described Dr Halcrow as a ‘remarkable young man’.

She said: ‘The GMC would have been aware he may have been consuming alcohol. That would have meant his restrictions would not have been lifted and James would have been aware of this.

‘It is clear James was an excellent doctor, so much so he was given an award. He was very sociable and this restriction affected him deeply and affected the social side of his life also.

‘It is clear James was looking forward to the restriction being lifted so he could partake in the consumption of alcohol if he wanted to. It is also clear he was deeply upset with his last interview with the GMC.

‘It is also clear he would have known his alcohol consumption may have shown up in the last test he did and it seems reasonable to rely on that as a factor in James taking his own life.’

It comes as the GMC is reviewing its fitness-to-practise procedures after finding that 28 doctors had died by suicide while under investigation between 2005 and 2013.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: ‘Dr James Halcrow’s death is a terrible tragedy - he was a young doctor with a bright future in the profession.

‘It would be wrong for me to comment on the details of this extremely sad case. What I can say is we are determined to do everything we can to reduce the pressure and anxiety for doctors in our procedures. It will always be a stressful experience but we want to offer whatever support we can to help them through the process.

‘We have a duty to protect the public but we want to make sure that the procedures we have to follow in our investigations are as sensitive and compassionate as possible. Where there are concerns about the health of a doctor, our aim is to get them back to work as soon as it is safe to do so.’

Credit: Cavendish Press (Manchester)

Readers' comments (155)

  • Took Early Retirement

    Another tragedy: more crocodile tears and weasel words from the GMC.

    How the hell does the GMC think it has the right to tell people what they can and cannot put in their digestive systems?

    Finally, I thought the term "GP trainee" disappeared decades ago and that they were registrars now?

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  • I am very sorry and sad to read that such a promising life was cut short.

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  • My condolences to his family and friends

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  • I think GMC does need to take into consideration that Doctors are human beings and have a right to a normal social life and norms acceptable in other professions should be acceptable for Doctors too. An MP with alcohol in his system can still be an MP but a Doctor drinking alcohol socially is compelled to self annihilate due to fear of the dragon.

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  • Rest in peace James.
    I hope that the GMC look long and hard at themselves after this. Did they really "do everything we can to reduce the pressure and anxiety for doctors in our procedures". I doubt it. I've been through a GMC investigation and the support they offer is practically worthless. They need to do so much more. To be frank, I just don't think they realise just how incredibly stressful the process is nor how skewed the process seems against the doctor.

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  • If the doctor had restrictions in place then there would be reasons why abstinence was one of thse stipulated. The regulator will try to make recommendattions based on the evidence supplied. We do not know the specific circumstances in Dr Halcrow's tragic case. Obviously in usual circumstances the only ingestion the GMC takes a dim view of is non-prescription drugs. That relates to professionalism and public perception.

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  • It's incredible what I'm reading. I've worked in Italy, Spain, Angola... It's the first time that I heard that Mother Medical Council in a Country affect so hard the private life of a person. This is the liberal UK...? There's something wrong, in the issue or I was sleeping

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  • Had this poor man also been prescribed or treated with SSRI's?
    If so, SSRI induced akathisia and suicide may be involved in such a tragic outcome. The risk does not cease on the 25th birthday.

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  • Very tragic. May his soul rest in peace. Everything possible must be put in place urgently to stop this from happening again. And this should include reprisals from MDO's against Doctors who had been cleared to return to practice by the GMC.

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