This was written eighteen months before X's own suicide. The exact events leading up to X's death remain unclear. Nonetheless, her story is as relevant today as it was then. Despite her fighting spirit, X remained terrified of a further GMC referral that might not have been possible to fight off. "Conditions" on a doctors registration due to illness mean that they are effectively unable to seek or achieve promotion, regardless of their ability to work effectively.
My Story about the GMC
In October 2002 I was arrested in a stationary vehicle in a car park over the alcohol limit for driving. This was the culmination of a turbulent 2 years living with an undiagnosed and untreated bipolar illness. I was convicted of drink driving in February of 2004 which resulted in GMC involvement.
At the time both GMC examiners agreed I was fit to practice generally but one recommended a period of medical supervision ...’due to the relapsing nature of my illness’.
The GMC concluded that my fitness to practice ‘might be impaired by reason of bipolar disorder’.
In July 2004 I agreed to medical supervision and the associated supposed ‘voluntary’undertakings.
One of the standard undertakings being to permit the GMC to disclose certain undertakings to any person requesting information about your registration status
On 11th July 2005 I received a letter from the GMC informing me that a number of my undertakings would be made available on the GMC online search facility and would remain their historically even if my registration status changed.
I wrote immediately to them forbidding them from disclosing information in this way and asked if I could appeal against ongoing medical supervision. I was told rather scathingly that of course there is no recourse to appeal. In response to this I formally withdrew from the previous undertakings.
The GMC responded by referring me to a fitness to practice hearing to be held in October 2005.
I took the following steps:
As a member of the MPS I was provided with a solicitor and a barrister.
I requested all GMC held paperwork on my case using the data protection and freedom of information acts.
I requested 3 independent medical opinions in addition to the 2 GMC appointed examiners.
I requested testimonials from all consultants I had worked with since being a psychiatry trainee in the UK (2000) explaining my situation and asking them specifically to comment on fitness to practice.
In addition I requested testimonials from my colleagues at the time. CPN’s and my secretary contributed!
I downloaded the health specific information from the GMC website and sent it to the information commissioner with a request for his comments
One week before the hearing was due to take place it was cancelled by the GMC on the advice of their lawyers. At that point they were in possession of 4 of the reports all stating I was fit to practice.
I quote from the GMC’s legal opinion;
‘It is unusual to find this degree of unanimity in 4 psychiatrists. In the light of their reports it is my opinion that the GMC would not be able to prove that Dr Shepherd needed to be under supervision nor that she needed to have conditions placed on her registration.’
I am no longer under GMC supervision. In addition I have in writing from the GMC that there is no longer any history against my registration and therefore nothing to disclose on the online search facility.
It was a very stressful time but one thing became quite clear. The GMC are not used to doctors defending themselves and basically don’t seem to know what to do when their usual intimidation doesn’t work.
On the basis of my experience I would encourage doctors to stand up to the GMC.
The GMC’s behaviour towards doctors with mental illness is illogical, prejudiced and I am convinced illegal. Unfortunately some of my psychiatric colleagues collude with the process and I have contacted RCPsych expressing my concerns regarding this.
My e mail is XXXXXXXXX I’d be keen to hear about other peoples experiences and am more than happy to offer support.