Surrey GP took her own life after her job 'became overwhelming'

A Surrey GP, described as a 'dedicated, passionate and much loved' doctor, has taken her own life after her job as a partner 'became overwhelming', her family has said.

NHS sign outside a building
(Photo: Universal Images Group/Getty Images)

Dr Gail Milligan, who worked at Camberley Health Centre, was found dead by a police search team last week after she had been missing for nearly 24 hours.

In a heartbreaking message, that has been widely shared on social media, Dr Milligan's husband Christopher said 'the unbearable pressure of her job finally got to her'. He added: 'We are in no doubt that the job made her ill.'

Mr Milligan posted the message in a private GP social media group, but it has since been shared countless times on Twitter after he gave permission for it to be made public. In the moving tribute he described his wife as 'the best of us'.

GP workload

Mr Milligan wrote: 'For years she has been giving everything she had to other people in her professional life and her private life too. Especially during the pandemic.

'She was seeing patients face-to-face the whole time, as well as the unbelievable amount of telephone consultations that were happening. She saw old people dying in care homes during the pandemic, and was working at the vaccine centres.'

He said that the pressures of not making mistakes and 'the endless emails and paperwork' meant that in the last few years she had been 'neglecting herself'.

'She used to leave for work at 6:45am and not get home until usually between 7.30 and 8pm. When she arrived home she would generally work until I made her go to bed at 11pm. That was a "lazy" four days a week. On her "lazy'" day off on Thursdays, she would work for about 12 hours. This tipped over into the weekends more recently,' Mr Milligan wrote.

He said that HR at the practice was one of her responsibilities and 'sadly it turned out to be the thing that broke her'.

Mr Milligan wrote: 'Last Sunday afternoon she opened an email that hit her so hard that she never recovered. She went into a deep, deep depression from the Monday to the Wednesday, when she took her life.

'We tried to intervene. Her colleagues tried as hard as they could to get her out of it. Offering to take over for her, and trying to reassure her that her thinking about a situation was wrong. And it was wrong. She had lost the ability to think rationally. Something had gone wrong in her head. By the time we realised what was happening, it was already too late.

'Her colleagues told her to take some time off on Wednesday afternoon, and to go home. She never came home.'

Mental health

Mr Milligan said his wife's suicide was 'not a cry for help. This was clearly the only way she could see her suffering stopping.'

He said Dr Milligan's actions were 'far from normal' for her. 'She was so proud of our boys, and would have never dreamed of doing anything to hurt them However, mental illness had other ideas. Looking back, and talking to friends and family, I think she had been hiding it for years, while helping other people deal with their mental health, she neglected her own.'

He wrote that Dr Milligan's death was 'such a sad waste of a wonderful, beautiful, funny and absolutely bananas wife, mother and doctor.'

He added: 'The next time you hear somebody banging on about lazy doctors, please stop and think about what happened to my wife.'

Mr Milligan said: 'I don't think I'll ever be the same again. We'd been together for thirty years this year. It was almost always lots of laughter and fun with huge amounts of piss-taking. My boys have lost their mother, and I have lost my best friend.'

He ended his post by saying: 'There just aren't enough GPs to cope, and now there is one less.'

Much-loved colleague

A message posted on Camberley Health Centre's website said: 'It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Dr Gail Milligan. Dr Milligan was a beloved member of the practice and will be sorely missed by staff and the patients whom she supported and cared for with such dedication.

It added that Dr Milliagan was 'a dedicated and passionate GP and was much loved and respected by patients and colleagues alike. Her commitment and expertise in her various roles across primary care and medical education were clear to all'.'

Fiona Edwards, chief executive of NHS Frimley, the integrated care board in which Dr Milligan worked, said: 'Everyone at NHS Frimley was shocked at the unexpected death of Dr Gail Milligan, a much-loved friend and colleague and a highly respected and admired clinician.

'We are working with her practice to provide support at this difficult time, as well as supporting wider staff who knew and worked with Gail. We would like to add our sympathies and condolences to the many already expressed to Gail’s family and friends.'

Dr Milligan qualified at Manchester University in 1998 and trained as a GP in Reading. She had been part of the team at Camberley Health Centre since 2003 and was also a GP trainer. She was 47 when she died.

A poll by the Rebuild General Practice campaign earlier this year found that more than four in five GPs have experienced work-related anxiety, stress or depression in the past year and a quarter know a colleague in their area who has taken their own life.

  • GPs can access free mental health support from NHS Practitioner Health - more information here. Other NHS professionals may also be able to get help from NHS Practitioner Health, which in England will be via your local health and mental wellbeing hub – see here for details.

Full details on all the support and resources available to doctors experiencing mental ill health are here

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