BMA backs widow's legal claim

by Peter Blackburn

The BMA is supporting a legal claim made by the widow of a consultant anaesthetist who took his own life within hours of receiving a letter from the GMC.

Location: UK
Last reviewed: 11 June 2021
viji suresh 42022

On 2 May 2018, Sridharan Suresh, who worked at North Tees and Hartlepool Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, was told he would be subject to an interim orders tribunal.

Dr Suresh had been under police investigation at the time following allegations of sexual touching made by a teenage patient undergoing sedation for dental extraction – although it has since been revealed that the drugs used to sedate the patient are ‘well-known’ to produce hallucinations and heightened sexual feelings, the description the victim gave did not match Dr Suresh’s appearance and the police later closed the case citing ‘insufficient evidence’.

Dr Suresh had been told by his trust he would not be referred to the GMC, but the police made a third-party referral and the trust did not inform Dr Suresh, despite knowing the action had been taken.

'Extreme anger'

Now, the BMA is supporting legal action against the trust and the GMC, taken by Dr Suresh’s widow, Viji Suresh (pictured, top).

Mrs Suresh described her loss as ‘irreplaceable’ – and said Dr Suresh’s death causes her ‘extreme anger and disappointment'.

The BMA is supporting Dr Suresh’s family in a claim, as regards the GMC, for damages and other relief brought under the Human Rights Act 1998, the law of negligence under the provisions of the Fatal Accidents Act 1976 and under the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1934.

A letter before action will be sent to the GMC outlining the details of the case. It says the GMC should have known there was a real and immediate risk of suicide, and that there were system failures after the GMC failed to take any steps to liaise with Dr Suresh’s employer or the police to assess his vulnerabilities, despite Dr Suresh telling his trust how the investigations were affecting him and his family.

'Shockwave'

The letter outlines that the GMC’s communication with Dr Suresh on 2 May 2018 was impersonal despite the GMC suggesting it has improved these processes. It also says the GMC failed to conduct a risk assessment.

On the impact of the letter from the GMC Mrs Suresh said: ‘He was on his own, he was alone, there was nobody there with him. The amount of impact it had – it was a kind of shockwave. His mind was not in the right place.'

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BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said: ‘Those three letters – GMC – send a shiver down any doctor’s spine. For as long as I have known every doctor lives in fear of a letter through their letterbox from the GMC. When doctors see such a letter, what flashes through their minds is they see their careers ending, they fear adverse publicity, they fear suspension from their employers, they fear for their livelihoods, they fear the shame and they fear their side not being heard.’

Duty of care

The BMA is also supporting legal action against North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust. A letter before action which will be sent to the trust suggests Dr Suresh’s employers owed him a duty of care and breached that 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.

The letter says the trust could have put appropriate measures in place to provide further support to Dr Suresh, including a more interventionist approach where counselling and occupational health could have been arranged.

The letter will say the trust’s failings contributed to Dr Suresh’s decision to take his own life.

Mental vulnerability

BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul added, all employers should be ‘acutely aware of the impact of an investigation by the GMC – and the communication of that investigation – can have on a doctor.’

He said: ‘There should be systems to ensure that the mental well-being of a doctor is safeguarded, the right support given, any work adjustment allowed for and that they have colleagues they can speak to and trust and have the ability to share their fears and feelings in a confidential space rather. 

‘Without this employers risk adding to the isolation that being notified of an investigation can create due to the worry and the shame of that being more widely known. Employers must put in place systems to support the mental health of doctors, any adjustments they need and a safe space to speak confidentially about anything they need.’