Two GPs were suspended for 12 months in May after an MPTS tribunal found that their falsification of QOF records amounted to serious misconduct.
The tribunal accepted that their motivation was not financial gain but a bid to save their practice from being closed down by the CQC.
Dr Syed Imam and Dr Tariq Aziz Siddiqui, who were previously GP partners at the Cleveland Surgery, backdated a number of QOF records between 2018 and 2019 which amounted to over £44,000 of income.
The practice was put in special measures by the CQC in January 2018 after being rated as ‘inadequate’, which was in part due to their low QOF scores.
They had achieved 65% of the total number of points available, compared with CCG and national averages of 94% and 96% respectively.
Another CQC inspection later that year showed improved QOF scores and led to an upgraded rating of good.
However, concerns were raised by staff about the validity of these QOF records, and local investigations found that the partners had been backdating QOF data in patient records, with 85% of reviews for cancer care patients having been falsified in 2017/2018.
At their tribunal, both doctors admitted to their wrongdoing and showed ‘genuine remorse and regret’.
Part of their evidence showed that a neighbouring practice had recently closed meaning 5,000 patients were displaced to Cleveland Surgery.
The tribunal chair Mr Nathan Moxon said: ‘The surgery was under pressure to perform and, as GP partner, Dr Imam had the responsibility for those displaced patients.
‘In turn, this pressure caused Dr Imam to be stressed and concerned that repeated failures would lead to the CQC closing his surgery too, leaving thousands of patients without adequate care. Dr Imam stated that this led to his actions to falsify the QOF entries.’
While the tribunal determined the behaviour had been dishonest, leading to an impairment of their fitness to practise and suspension, it was satisfied that their actions ‘did not put patient safety at risk’.
It also acknowledged that the GP partners did not act in the interests of financial gain, rather to improve their CQC rating and save the practice from closure.
However, Mr Moxon said: ‘The dishonesty was serious as it was premeditated, repeated, prolonged and designed to mislead regulators to avoid appropriate regulatory scrutiny.’
During the tribunal, both GPs had evidence of ‘unblemished’ records and several positive testimonials on their character.
The GP partners were treated separately in the hearing, however the evidence heard and assessment of the tribunal were very similar.
A review hearing will take place for both doctors before the end of the period of suspension.
Earlier this month, following a MPTS suspension decision, Pulse revealed that the GMC admitted it was wrong to suggest to the tribunal that the doctor’s apology to a patient was an admission of guilt.