Suspension of GP after requesting laptop ‘will put medics off general practice’, Royal College warns

Medics will be put off going into general practice due to a “devastating” decision by a tribunal to suspend a family doctor for a month after she requested a laptop, the Royal College of GPs has warned.

Dr Manjula Arora, 58, was reported to the General Medical Council (GMC) after she wrongly told IT officials she had been ”promised” the device by her boss when, in fact, he ”noted her interest” in getting one.

The Royal College of GPs said it is “deeply concerned” about the case and while it welcomed the GMC’s decision to review the ruling, it suggested the case should never have got through the regulator’s screening processes let alone result in a Fitness to Practise (FTP) hearing and a sanction.

Despite more than 30 years’ exemplary service, Dr Arora, who was working as a locum practitioner for Stockport-based out-of-hours provider Mastercall when she made the request in December 2019, endured a 15-month inquiry that culminated in an eight day disciplinary hearing this month.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) found Dr Arora guilty of dishonesty, serious professional misconduct and ”impaired” ability to practise medicine. She has been suspended for 28 days.

The MPTS “accepted, in general terms” that Dr Arora was not a dishonest person, but that suspension would ”send a message that her misconduct, albeit relating to a single fleeting moment of dishonesty was not acceptable”.

The Royal College has now said in a statement: “GPs are working in an increasingly punitive and litigious environment and any referral to the GMC causes enormous stress and distress for the doctor being investigated, their colleagues and families. As well as being devastating for Dr Arora, cases such as this only make it harder to retain existing GPs and persuade new ones to go into general practice, and particularly to work in out of hours.

“GPs and their teams are working under greater pressures than ever before. We have a severe shortage of GPs at the same time as patient demand and complexity is increasing, and we need much greater support – including better IT and infrastructure – to do our jobs properly and care for patients safely, without it adversely impacting our own health. Therefore, it seems incomprehensible to remove a doctor with, to our knowledge, an otherwise impeccable track record from frontline patient care, even for a short period of time.”

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The College said it has also raised concerns with the Care Quality Commission about the “disproportionate impact of its inspection regime on doctors from minority ethnic backgrounds”. GPs around the country are also facing “numerous IT issues” that are affecting their ability to do their job, the College added.

The decision to suspend Dr Arora for a month sparked a furious reaction from medics. Some 5,000 people have now signed a letter from the grassroots lobbying organisation Doctors’ Association UK asking the Professional Standards Agency to investigate the GMC’s handling of the case. The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin has also raised the case with the GMC.

Last week i revealed that Dr Arora was finally given a laptop in April 2020 five months after her original request for one, by which point disciplinary proceedings had already begun. It is understood she is considering an appeal.

The GMC said the case had gone to a full hearing because there was a dispute of facts between Dr Arora and Mastercall. Chief executive Charlie Massey said he has asked for a review of this case “to understand whether there are lessons to learn and apply for future cases”.

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