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Climate change protest GP suspended for five months

Climate change protest GP suspended for five months

A GP who took part in ‘peaceful’ climate change protests should be suspended for five months due to multiple breaches of a court order, a tribunal has ruled.

A Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) panel has decided to suspend Birmingham GP Dr Sarah Benn’s registration for a period of five months.

The GMC stressed that Dr Benn was referred to the MPTS for multiple breaches of a court order, which resulted in a custodial sentence, rather than for protesting about climate change.

The MPTS considered evidenced relating to Dr Benn breaching a court injunction by attending protests at a Warwickshire oil terminal in 2022.

It concluded that by ‘consistently’ breaching a court order Dr Benn’s actions ‘amounted to misconduct’.

If a doctor receives a custodial sentence following civil proceedings, the GMC considers this to be ‘an indicator of the seriousness of their actions’ and can result in a referral to an independent hearing at the MPTS, similar to the GMC’s approach to a criminal conviction.

A GMC spokesperson said: ‘Dr Sarah Benn was referred to a hearing at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service not for protesting about climate change, but for multiple breaches of a court order which resulted in a custodial sentence.

‘Like all citizens, doctors have the right to express their personal opinions on issues, including climate change.

‘There is nothing in our guidance to prevent them from doing so, nor from exercising their right to lobby government and to campaign, including taking part in protests.

‘However, patients and the public rightly have a high degree of trust in doctors and that trust can be eroded if doctors repeatedly fail to comply with the law.

‘Our fitness to practise investigations consider cases which are referred to us and where doctors have broken the law, not their motivations for doing so. It is not the role of regulators to determine UK law – that is a matter for parliament.’

Dr Benn told Pulse: ‘Climate breakdown poses an existential threat to humanity. I broke the law, a law designed to protect the interests and profits of the oil industry, an industry which is killing our planet.

‘I broke the law out of desperation, trying my best to protect life and health in an emergency. The GMC have shown no insight, no leadership and no moral courage in disciplining me in this way. There will be no medicine on a dead planet.’

BMA representative body chair and workforce lead Dr Latifa Patel said that Dr Benn’s actions and her resulting custodial sentence ‘posed no threat to patients’, but her suspension ‘implies they do’.

She added: ‘It is now time for the GMC and the medical profession to review the basis on which Dr Benn found herself in front of a medical tribunal.

‘Like any citizen, doctors should adhere to the law, but many will find it very difficult to understand that their ability to practise medicine could be suspended because of peaceful actions they take in protest of the climate crisis.

‘Whilst the GMC has a duty to refer doctors to a medical tribunal when they receive a custodial sentence, in some cases, such as this one, the doctor’s actions will have no bearing on their ability to practise medicine and will not pose a risk to patients, past or future.

‘This ruling sends a worrying message to other doctors about the regulation of matters not directly related to patient care or their clinical skills, and raises serious questions about the rules behind the handling of such cases.’

Last week the tribunal made a finding of misconduct, according to the environmental activist group Just Stop Oil.

Just Stop Oil described Dr Benn as a ‘supporter’ of the organisation, and said she was involved in ‘peaceful demonstrations’ which demanded the Government ‘bring an end to new fossil fuel projects’.

Dr Benn is registered but has not held a licence to practise since 30 August 2022.

In 2022, Dr Benn wrote for Pulse about her experiences in a women’s prison, saying she ended up there because she made clear to the judge that she felt no remorse and had every intention of returning to protest again.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

So the bird flew away 23 April, 2024 4:31 pm

What a weasel worded statement by the GMC! “It is not the role of regulators to determine UK law”. Agreed it isn’t to determine, but they can interpret. The GMC should have demonstrated its independence from this horrid kleptocratic Govt by interpreting the recently introduced UK law before deciding whether a further application of punishment, to time served, was really necessary. Any other doctor protesters (anti war, anti nukes, anti bankers profits) could easily end up in this same situation. Whatever the arguments re climate change, it’s a sorry day when the GMC drones decide to take another full whack at this intelligent, brave, elderly GP colleague.

john mccormack 23 April, 2024 5:32 pm

In years to come people like the very courageous Dr Benn will be recognised as heros/heroines who put the betterment of society ahead of their own in the same mode as the Suffragettes and Civil Rights protestors. The GMC will remain what it always has been, a stooge for the establishment.

Philip Cox 23 April, 2024 6:15 pm

It seems that the GMC has overstated its remit. Dr Benn’s behaviour has little bearing on her ability to practice and while her activism has led to a conviction I think 6 months suspension is too severe.

Richard Greenway 23 April, 2024 6:48 pm

Dr Benn should be congratulated, not punished! She isn’t even practicing of her own volition anyway , so what on earth is the GMC wasting our subscription on this sort of investigation? What message do they think this gives about the GMC

John Graham Munro 23 April, 2024 7:05 pm

Thought I could do what the bloody hell I liked as long as patient safety was not compromised—————-but now?

Gerrit Huisman 24 April, 2024 8:38 am is one way to register your support (for what it is worth)

Nicholas Browne 24 April, 2024 10:00 am

Whilst I am a great believer in the importance of abiding by the law, I am also a strong believer in the right to protest. Currently the ‘law’ is aiming to to restrict this. There is a point where ‘abiding by the law’ becomes complicit with the environmental destruction wrought by the oil companies, and the civil restrictions brought on by the current Government. The law must be for the protection of the citizens of this country – not multinationals!! I would encourage every Doctor to sign up to Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion, and to peacefully protest at every opportunity. Even by signing up, you are demonstrating support, and hopefully making it harder to justify this type of restrictive action.

Dylan Summers 24 April, 2024 10:28 am

The GMC – yet again again showing they’re unable to see a foot without shooting themselves in it.

Ghost of Victor Meldrew 24 April, 2024 10:31 am

‘However, patients and the public rightly have a high degree of trust in doctors and that trust can be eroded if doctors repeatedly fail to comply with the law.”
So let the public decide whether Dr Benn’s actions impinge upon her ability to be a trustworthy doctor, not a cadre of Government supporting self righteous dinosaurs, supporting the same Govt that is destroying primary care by refusing proper funding

Simon Gilbert 24 April, 2024 12:53 pm

‘The public’ is only a monolithic institution in communist or totalitarian forms of control. They are in fact heterogenous individuals with varying opinions over time.
Transparency is important, so perhaps a Dr with convictions should have to list them on the register and let patients know in advance of any treatment, but in reality many will not believe Dr Benn’s actions make her less qualified to represent herself as a doctor.
GMC action should focus on how it relates to the Doctor’s safety to practice.

COI: not convinced by her cause.

Centreground Centreground 24 April, 2024 1:28 pm

An organisation such as the GMC purporting to regulate rogue actions has in my opinion increasingly transformed into an effectively unregulated rogue organisation itself . We should expect this to become worse now it has accepted the immense monetary gains from agreeing to regulate PAs against the opinion of many as the correct body with consequent increased GMC financial firepower and resources for it to potentially waste and we await how much of this will be used to further attack doctors.

Samir Shah 24 April, 2024 10:28 pm

Dr Benn is a hero. Actions have no impact to fitness to practice as a GP. No impact to patient safety during a consultation.

there’ll probably be another press release from the GMC CEO apologising and promising lessons to be learnt yet again.