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GP sues Daily Mail for £200,000 over 'insulting and oppressive' article

A Spanish GP is suing the Daily Mail for £200,000 after claiming that his professional reputation was damaged by an ‘unfair’ and ‘dishonest’ article by one of its columnists.

Dr Jose Antonio Serrano Garcia said an article by former Sun editor Kelvin Mackenzie was ‘unfair, insulting, oppressive and dishonest’, and caused him to take a more junior role in a different practice as he no longer felt confident or competent to continue in his own role.

London’s High Court heard that Mr Mackenzie wrote the article, headlined ‘A whole year of hell, thanks to a foreign doctor’, in the Daily Mail in April 2012.

He criticised Dr Serrano for his treatment of bus driver Kevin Jones – who had his driving licence taken away after the Hastings-based GP referred him to the DVLA over his alcohol consumption.

In it, Mr MacKenzie described how further tests revealed Mr Jones was not alcohol dependent and his licence was returned after a year, and also suggested that a ‘language barrier’ between doctor and patient resulted in a misdiagnosis.

Dr Serrano, 45, now seeks damages for libel from the paper’s publisher, Associated Newspapers Ltd over the claims that he did not listen to or understand his patient.

He says its publication caused him to lose confidence, which persuaded him to move from his practice in Hastings to a more junior role at a surgery in Bexhill-on-Sea.

Associated Newspapers is vigorously defending the claim, arguing the article was ‘true or substantially true’, as the doctor’s report to the DVLA was ‘inappropriate and unnecessary’.

The publisher also contends that some of the words used in the article were ‘honest comment’ and that Mr MacKenzie acted ‘in good faith’ based on the information he obtained through research.

Mr Justice Dingemans, hearing the case, was told Dr Serrano was based at the Roebuck House Practice, in Hastings, from 2002 onwards, after moving to the UK in 1995.

The GP saw Mr Jones at the Little Ridge Surgery, in St Leonards-on-Sea, in January 2011, when the 54-year-old bus driver complained of a painful swollen foot.

The court heard the consultation was a ‘difficult one for both doctor and patient’ and that what actually happened during it is subject to dispute between Dr Serrano and Associated Newspapers.

However, following the meeting, the doctor wrote to the DVLA indicating concern about Mr Jones’ alcohol consumption, which led to his licence being taken from him and the loss of his job.

Following further tests in October the same year, Mr Jones, of Pentland Close, St Leonards-on-Sea, was given his licence back and reinstated as a bus driver.

The events formed the subject of what Mr MacKenzie wrote and Dr Serrano’s case is that the article was ‘dishonestly published, with a reckless disregard for the truth’, to provide a further story on the columnist’s ‘xenophobic theme of foreign doctors’.

The GP’s barrister, Ronald Thwaites QC, told the court that the article suggested the doctor either didn’t understand or didn’t listen to what his patient told him about his drinking, which was a ‘shocking’ attack on his professional reputation.

Mr Thwaites added: ‘These criticisms strike at the root of a man’s profession and he is being attacked on these matters.’

 The doctor says the article’s publication had ‘distressing consequences’, as he no longer felt competent or confident to continue at the Roebuck Practice, instead moving to a more junior level – on lower pay – at a surgery in Bexhill.

 The hearing, expected to last several days, continues.

Readers' comments (96)

  • Dr Mustapha Tahir

    Apologies, to the sun, I meant the Daily Mail.

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  • 11.50am.....or even the daily mail!

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  • PLEASE, Pulse, can we stop people from posting on here who are not healthcare professionals. This has been mentioned many times before but it gets no better. The comments from 9.34 and 9.38, purporting to come from an NHS Manager and an "Other healthcare professional" respectively were clearly written by people who have no idea about the NHS, the complaints procedure or being a Dr. They seem to believe that trial of doctors by the media is OK and therefore have no place on this forum.

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  • And the Daily Mail can be sued for RACISM!! The world "foreign" is of course in that case pejorative!!
    The correct procedure would have been to complain to the GMC and then report it in the newspaper..
    It is a good practice to report to the DVLA any concern, then they have to investigate...

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  • It is disappointing to see so many comments from educated professionals redolent of the same style employed by the tabloids themselves.
    None of us have complete access to the facts and we cannot therefore judge who is at fault. Perhaps the GP, as a result of the "difficult consultation", maliciously attempted to scupper the patient's career. Perhaps the patient manipulated the subsequent medical hearing. How can we know on the basis of what is presented here?
    I fully agree that all newspapers have a duty to report responsibly. But GPs must also be held to account when appropriate. And it does the medical profession no favours when doctors respond in the manner of tabloid headline-writers.

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  • When did it become the public's best interest to have a potential disaster behind wheel. Better to be safe than sorry and try to prevent rather than cure. GP was professional and acted according to best practice. We had a similar concern with a patient who admitted issues when driving and both medical defense and DVLA recommended referral to them !

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  • Ideally the patient should update the DVLA regarding any significant health problems that may effect driving. This is the drivers responsibility as part of holding a Driving Licence.

    Unless the DVLA had requested information, which does not require patients consent, the GP should have discussed the fact he was going to report the patient to the DVLA and that this was his duty as a GP. . If the GP felt that there was a significant risk to others and the patient refused to inform the DVLA then he would be correct to do this. The same applies to epilepsy, TIA etc.

    I doubt the article mentioned any of this as the Mail is more interested in making any health story, especially about GPs, sensational. More ammunition in Hunt and the Right Wings crusade against GPs. They will miss us when we are gone and US style healthcare pre-obamacare replaces it. I recently read an article about a lady in Kentucky who despite having concerns about her health hadn't consulted a doctor for a routine appointment for 7 years due to fear about the costs. She was still paying off $10000 from when she had appendicitis previously.

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  • "Other Healthcare professional" @ 12.00pm. What you do not seem to understand is that it is not the role of the Daily Mail to hold GPs "to account when appropriate". That is a matter for the standard NHS Complaints Procedure. That is why the GPs posting here are so angry. Stop writing on here about things you have so little understanding of. Instead, if you are such a great admirer of the Daily Mail, read this tragic story that they publish today: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-191373/The-GP-cared-much.html

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  • "Sessional/Locum GP" at 12:19 - I understand the role of the press very well. Sometimes even the tabloids do a good job in prompting the statutory bodies to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.
    GPs and others have a right to be angry when appropriate, but should not leap to conclusions simply because they despise a particular individual or organisation.
    I read the Daily Mail for the first time in years in a waiting room recently (there were no alternatives but the Sun and Mirror) and I came away equally angry about the standard of journalism. So please do not make assumptions about me, based as they have to be, on ignorance.

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  • And if he hadn't refered the pt to the DVLA and he had crashed the bus, then the GP would get in in the neck for not reporting him....Can't win... GPs work hard and deserve credit for all they do :-)

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