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Why court official served summons in my surgery

Given the nature of my patient group I probably receive a higher-than-average number of requests from Devon's probation service. The usual pattern is an initial letter telling me they are preparing a pre-sentence report and require details of the patient's health problems and an opinion on their ability to perform community service.

The letter goes on to explain that the probation service has no funds to pay for this information and relies on GPs' goodwill. They also say a verbal report will suffice and they will be contacting the surgery to speak to the doctor. A consent form is always attached.

On March 10 I had the misfortune of becoming suddenly unwell and was admitted to hospital. During my absence from the practice a letter was received from the probation service.

By March 28, although I was back at work, I had not cleared my in-tray of non-urgent work. It therefore came as a complete surprise when an officer of the court arrived during the Friday morning surgery to serve me with a summons to appear before a Crown Court judge on April 7 to provide medical details about the patient, at my own expense, unless I had previously provided the probation service with a satisfactory medical report.

There are several issues here that give cause for concern, notably a Government-funded statutory organisation has to rely on the medical profession's goodwill to function properly. (I wonder if lawyers and accountants are also expected to work for them pro bono!).

Without any training or experience in occupational medicine, is the average GP suitably qualified to be providing this sort of opinion?

Do the courts have the authority to instruct anyone to do a favour for anyone else?

Dr Trevor Aughey

Plymouth, Devon

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