Leaders from across general practice have demanded that the GMC takes action on the ‘incomprehensible’ decision to suspend a GP over ‘semantics’ involving her work laptop.
The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service decision to suspend Dr Manjula Arora for a month for ‘dishonesty’ after telling an IT department she had been ‘promised’ a laptop has left the profession up in arms.
BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the ‘incomprehensible’ ruling will ‘add to many doctors’ fears about the GMC’s disproportionate and unfair approach to their regulatory system as it applies to the medical profession’.
And he said the case ‘raises serious questions about the processes and judgments of Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service hearings’.
Dr Nagpaul said: ‘By its own admission the tribunal’s determination is based on the interpretation of a single word relating to the provision of a laptop, in an otherwise unblemished career of a doctor.
‘It is incomprehensible that suspending this doctor from caring for patients for a month, at a time of unprecedented NHS pressures, is in the public’s interest.’
While the case will have ‘no bearing’ on the public’s confidence in GPs, it will have ‘dramatically eroded the medical profession’s confidence in its regulator and exacerbated doctors’ fear of unfair treatment by the GMC’, he said.
‘A referral to the GMC can cause untold mental distress on a doctor, with some doctors having sadly taken their own lives whilst being investigated,’ he added.
The BMA has ‘repeatedly raised’ concerns about disproportionate GMC referrals by employers of doctors from ethnic minorities, he stressed, with doctors who have qualified overseas ‘three times’ more likely to be referred than UK-trained doctors.
Dr Nagpaul said: ‘Doctors are perplexed and deeply concerned that the allegations in this case were referred to the GMC and were not instead resolved locally.’
This comes as the BMA ‘has already called for an external scrutiny panel to assess all employer referrals to the GMC, as another check to ensure appropriateness, given concerns that many complaints do not need regulatory investigation but can be dealt with by local processes’.
Dr Nagpaul added: ‘This ruling reinforces the BMA’s view that there needs to be a comprehensive root and branch independent evaluation of the GMC’s fitness-to-practise decision-making procedures starting from the referral process itself.’
Meanwhile, the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (BAPIO) has written to the GMC expressing their ‘deep concern’ over the handling of the case and tribunal decision.
It said the case is ‘worrying’ and demonstrates the GMC has ‘got its priorities completely wrong’ and ‘still has a long way to go’.
The letter, co-signed by BAPIO president Dr Ramesh Mehta and BAPIO Grand Advisory Council chairman Dr JS Bamrah, said the fact the GMC put the case to the MPTS is ‘beguiling’ and that the GMC must ‘reflect on its role in this sorry saga’.
It said the case shows ‘how the FTP process is misused to punish doctors’, adding that there were ‘multiple chances for the GMC case managers to see this case for what it was and explore the matters before putting them to the tribunal’.
BAPIO said GMC counsel Mr Hagan ‘played on semantics to make Dr Arora appear like a dishonest liar’, and called his cross-examination ‘distasteful and cringing’.
It added: ‘Why she was even in a position having to ask for an essential work tool seems to make all this even more bizarre’.
BAPIO called the ruling ‘truly punitive’, and condemned the GMC’s ‘insensitive, ill thought out, punitive and tick box manner’.
BIDA told Pulse today it would also be contacting the GMC about the outcome of the case.
A GMC spokesperson told Pulse: ‘The doctor’s employer referred a number of concerns to us around probity. Our case examiners cannot resolve disputes of fact so where such claims are disputed it is right that a doctor is able to give their account of events at a full hearing.
‘Having considered all of the evidence the tribunal found that the doctor had been dishonest and that her fitness to practise was impaired. Given that finding, and submissions from the doctor, the tribunal determined that the minimum sanction needed was a short suspension.’
The MDU, which represented Dr Arora, declined to comment.