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GP convicted of patient assault after attending an emergency call

A GP who was handed a two-month suspension after he admitted assaulting a man he had been told to attend to in the street has raised questions about the support for lone GPs sent to deal with emergency calls.

Dr Martin Thom, who works at the Saltoun surgery in Fraserburgh in the north of Scotland, was fined £360 in November last year after pleading guilty and convicted of assault.

The incident occurred after Dr Thom was called to attend to a 25-year-old man who was reported as having collapsed in the street, ‘apparently under the influence of alcohol or drugs’. Dr Thom was responding to an emergency call because there was no ambulance available to attend.

Witnesses said that Dr Thom seized hold of the man’s body and pushed him so that the man banged his head on a wall. Witnesses also described Dr Thom as punching the man on the face twice, causing injury.

Dr Thom said the patient had hit him first and although he had ‘no recollection’ of punching him back, he accepted, based on the witness statement, that he had done so.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service was told the episode was a ‘one-off’ and ‘out of character’ and that the GP had taken ‘genuine and significant steps towards remediation’, including stress counseling.

The tribunal heard that Dr Thom was ‘held in high regard as a GP in the local area by other professionals as well as by patients, family and friends’.

After the incident Dr Thom wrote to his LMC to ‘clarify the position on lone GPs attending ambulance calls’. The tribunal heard that he had been ‘nervous’ because he had previously attended calls where he was not equipped to help, such as when someone was having a heart attack.

Although the tribunal decided against striking him off, it ruled that the incident was too serious not to impose a short-term ban.

Suspension would ‘send a clear message to you, the public and the profession about the unacceptable nature of the conduct which gave rise to your conviction,’ it concluded.

Assaulting a vulnerable patient was a ‘breach of a fundamental tenet of the profession’, the tribunal added.

Panel chairman Michelle Codd told Dr Thom: ‘By your admission of guilt, you accepted that you had exceeded the level of force that was justified to deal with the situation before you.’