BMA backs negligence action against GMC and hospital over doctor's suicide

The BMA is supporting legal action over alleged negligence and under the Human Rights Act against the GMC and a hospital trust after a doctor took his own life in 2018.

The BMA has backed legal action against the regulator and the hospital trust by the doctor's family, claiming the organisations' actions 'contributed to the doctor taking his own life'.

The association also hopes the case will raise awareness of the risk of suicide or self harm among people working in the NHS - and the responsibilities 'institutions and others have to identify any doctor who may be at risk'. 

Dr Sridharan Suresh, a consultant anaesthetist at the University Hospital of North Tees, took his own life in May 2018 hours after receiving a letter from the GMC.

GMC letter

Dr Suresh had been accused by a patient of sexually abusing her. He was initially suspended by the hospital for two weeks and faced investigation by Cleveland police, the BMA says, although the police later dropped the case for insufficient evidence after a description of the woman's attacker did not match Dr Suresh.

Senior staff at the hospital had told Dr Suresh they supported him and would not refer him to the GMC, according to the BMA. But he was referred to the GMC by the police - and despite 'at least two senior managers' at the hospital being aware of this they did not warn Dr Suresh, the association says.

A letter warning of the legal action has been sent to the GMC and to the University Hospital of North Tees - setting out the argument that 'the trust’s failings contributed to Dr Suresh’s decision to take his own life'.

The letter argues that the trust owed the consultant a duty of care, which it breached by 'wrongly informing Dr Suresh that he would not be referred to the GMC, failing to update Dr Suresh or their medical director when the police made a referral to the GMC and failing to take steps to protect Dr Suresh’s mental health in light of those developments'.

Staff wellbeing

The BMA argues that managers at the trust knew Dr Suresh was distraught by the allegations against him and concerned about his future and should have done more to support him.

It also says the GMC should have known there was a real and immediate risk of suicide, and claims 'system failures' meant the regulator did not liaise with the hospital trust or the police to gauge his vulnerability.

The GMC called Dr Suresh's death a 'tragic case' and promised to keep 'listening, learning and improving' - and highlighted new safeguards and proposed changes to legislation to reduce the burden of investigation on doctors.

A GMC spokesperson said: ‘We are deeply saddened by the tragic case of Dr Suresh and the devastation this has brought his family. It’s so important we keep listening, learning and improving our processes, and we have made a number of changes since the inquest.

‘New safeguards including the offer of a phone call with our first email, and pre-disclosure checks following police referrals, will help us ensure sensitive messages are delivered in the best possible way, so extra support can be arranged if necessary.

‘We are seeking legislative reform, including greater flexibility, to the way we work with employers and investigate complaints. This will allow us to protect patients and reduce the impact of investigations on doctors.’

A North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson commented: 'The death our respected and much valued colleague Dr Sridharan Suresh is a tragedy for his family, his patients and his colleagues who still feel the impact of the loss of this highly skilled and committed clinician.

'It would not be appropriate for the trust to comment on any pending legal action.'

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