The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service has suspended a GP for a month for ‘dishonesty’ after telling an IT department she had been ‘promised’ a laptop.
The tribunal suspended Manchester GP Dr Manjula Arora because she told the IT department at Mastercall Healthcare, the GP out-of-hours provider where she worked, that she had been promised a laptop.
But the tribunal said that she had ‘exaggerated’ these claims, and as a result found that her fitness to practise was impaired.
However, doctors groups have reacted angrily to the judgement, saying that a suspension was disproportionate for a relatively minor offence.
The incident happened in December 2019, when Dr Arora told the IT department that the medical director and former CEO of Mastercall – referred to as ‘Dr B’ – had ‘promised’ her a laptop when they became available.
However, the tribunal heard that the email from Dr B said: ‘We don’t have any laptops at present, but I will note your interest when the next roll out happens.’
The Tribunal found that when Dr Arora told ‘Mr C’ (the digital services manager at Mastercall) she had been ‘promised’ a laptop, ‘she knew that Dr B had made no such promise, even if she interpreted his email generally as being a positive response to her request for a laptop’.
The MPTS documents said: ‘The Tribunal, again, concluded that Dr Arora had not set out to be dishonest, and that she had not set out to mislead Mr C. Rather, she had exaggerated the position in her use of one inappropriate word.
‘Nevertheless, it determined that, in the specific use of that one word, on that one occasion, she had been dishonest.’
The GMC representative, Mr Carl Hargan, said that Dr Arora had ‘brought the medical profession into disrepute’, ‘breached a fundamental tenet of the profession’, and that ‘her integrity could not be relied upon’.
Dr Arora’s representative, Mr Alan Jenkins, said that for the GMC, ‘dishonesty is an “all or nothing’ matter”, and suggested that this approach was not always appropriate’.
The MPTS documents said that both representatives and the Tribunal agreed that Dr Arora ‘had not caused any risk to patients’.
However, the MPTS said: ‘Dishonesty, whether or not in the context of a single exaggeration, does, in the Tribunal’s view, bring the medical profession into disrepute.’
The Tribunal concluded that Dr Arora’s fitness to practise was ‘impaired by reason of her misconduct’.
It was decided that a one-month suspension ‘represented an appropriate balance between upholding the overarching objective and providing an opportunity for Dr Arora to return to practice, recognising that her misconduct was momentary and out of character’.
Professor Sam Shah, a former national SRO for digital urgent and emergency care and NHSE regional clinical director for urgent care, told Pulse: ‘This case reflects an oppressive and punitive culture in the NHS driven by top down targets in an underfunded and poorly designed system.’
He said: ‘Remote working to get the best out of the workforce was encouraged for the last two years and allegedly championed in urgent care.’
He added it is ‘disappointing’ that ‘this case turns on a laptop’.
BAPIO president Dr Ramesh Mehta told Pulse: ‘It is not just a travesty of justice or a waste of time and energy of the GMC, but much worse is the demoralising impact on the doctors and wider medical professionals.
‘We have known that some of the GMC representatives are bent on punishing doctors whatever the facts of the case.
‘We have raised this issue with the GMC.’
BIDA national president Dr Chandra Kanneganti told Pulse: ‘This is an exaggerated response, just because of wording used to obtain a laptop for work purposes and more importantly the unsafe nature of workloads the doctors and most GPs have to face most days.
‘BIDA will fully support Dr Arora if she is planning to appeal this disproportionate response.’
He added: ‘Having read the judgement, maybe the bigger question to be asked particularly of overseas qualified docs is, “Have you ever been threatened by a referral to the GMC by your employer in a situation where you have declined to do something because you felt it was unsafe?” Is this threat used as a way of intimidating doctors, who might believe they would not get a fair hearing?’
‘Why has one individual been singled out here?’ Dr Vaughan asked, and ‘Why not local resolution?’
The news comes as GMC chair Charlie Massey said earlier this month that the current ‘rethink’ of doctor regulation will make the GMC process ‘less adversarial’ in future.
Last month, the regulator also proposed a number of amendments to its Good Medical Practice guide, including a commitment to consider which ‘context’ a doctor was working in if a complaint arises.
And an indemnity organisation revealed that more than a quarter of overseas GPs lack legal representation at fitness-to-practise hearings, and are more likely to face ‘harsher sanctions’ as a result.