An account of the suspension, contingent removal and termination of Devon GP Dr Roger Stephenson's contract, the subsequent High Court judgement against Devon Primary Care Trust and ongoing developments in this case.
Devon Local Medical Committee (LMC)
All General Practitioners in the UK are represented by their Local Medical Committee. These are funded by the GPs themselves in their locality. The LMCs have a dual role to look after the interests of both individual general practitioners and the reputation of the profession as a whole at a local level.
Devon LMC HQ
The role of Devon LMC in Dr Stephenson’s case.
Devon LMC members with Dr Sarah Woolaston M.P. (January 2011)
has enjoyed a good reputation with local GPs especially in its role of offering them support and negotiating with the PCTs. Dr Stephenson does not believe it is deserved in his case.
On 27th September 2007, Dr Andrew Bower, Dr Stephenson’s probationary partner met Dr Peter Jolliffe –Devon LMC’s Chief Officer - to make allegations about Dr Stephenson’s performance. Dr Jolliffe considered these allegations so serious that on 1 October 2007 he informed the PCT, without making any attempt to find out Dr Stephenson’s side of the story.
PCTs have the ability to suspend a doctor within 24 hours if they have serious concerns (e.g. that patients might be at risk) but in this instance the PCT took no action and did not approach Dr Stephenson until five months later. Meanwhile the two doctors continued working side by side. In November 2007 Dr Jolliffe emailed both Drs Bower and Stephenson to arrange a meeting to discuss new premises for Bow Surgery, without mentioning the previous allegations. This meeting was subsequently cancelled for reasons that remain unclear.
Instead the PCT arranged a QOF inspection of the surgery with Dr Bower on 20th December. Whilst previous visit reports had always been satisfactory and sent to both partners, this report “open, transparent and accountable” was critical and yet only sent to Dr Bower. He did not share it with Dr Stephenson, yet verbally reported it to him as “satisfactory”.
A month later the PCT wrote to both doctors individually. Dr Bower’s reply (22nd January 2008) contained further allegations that led the PCT to call a performance screening panel meeting. These allegations were also sent to both Drs Jolliffe and Sanford-Wood at the LMC. The screening meetings took place on 29th January and 6th February. The panel members were Dr Jolliffe, Dr Nick d’Arcy, and Mr Greg Allen of the PCT. They decided to proceed to a full performance hearing on 4th March 2008. Dr Stephenson was then given just 24 hours’ notice of the allegations he would face, now a full five months after his partner had secretly raised them..
Dr Jolliffe admits that he was “almost a witness” in this case as Dr Bower first went to him with his complaints and that it was he who passed them on to the PCT. Nevertheless he was happy to be a member of the screening panel.
Mrs Sarah Hale & Mr Kevin Hale
During the initial investigation into Dr Stephenson, Kevin Hale
was the PCT’s Investigating Officer. His wife, Sarah, was Dr Jolliffe’s PA, and Pastoral Care Lead at Devon LMC – the organisation paid for by, and giving support to GPs. They were jointly present at monthly performance review meetings (eg 21/7/10). While there is little documentary evidence to suggest that there was any conflict of interest, the transcripts of Dr Bower’s and Dr Stephenson’s formal interviews with Dr Lockerbie, recorded by Kevin Hale, show his wife’s name as author in the ‘document properties’.
On 10 July 2009 Dr Stephenson’s Contingent Removal was overturned in the High Court. Three days after his victory Dr Stephenson requested a meeting with the LMC.
After much prevarication eventually, on 11 September, Dr Jolliffe met Drs Sanford-Wood and Daniels (present and past chairmen of the LMC who had also been members of Dr Stephenson’s performance panels) to discuss Dr Stephenson’s request for a meeting. The result was a letter from Dr Jolliffe dated 28 September rejecting his request. This letter (.pdf) had been first approved by the PCT’s lawyers.
On account of the LMC’s unwillingness to meet Dr Stephenson (a LMC member of 17 years), he made a formal complaint on 23 October 2009. The LMC had no complaints procedure at the time. Instead the chairman, Dr Sanford-Wood, again after much prevarication, much of it about the nature of a complaints procedure, “considered the matter closed” on 21 January 2010.
Still receiving no help in understanding what the High Court Judge described as “something behind it all”, Dr Stephenson instigated a Data Protection Act Subject Access Request to the LMC on 28 July 2010. The Act states that such personal data that is relevant should be released to an individual within 40 days. More than a year later, appropriate data was still being released under pressure from the Information Commissioner, who had criticised LMC delays and inappropriate redaction. The following extracts (some of which had been inappropriately redacted) perhaps suggest why the LMC were reluctant to release it.
“...if we see what the game is then it will be easier to ignore him [Dr Stephenson] and treat him with the polite disdain he probably warrants.” 4 Sep 2009
“Well RS has a Promethian personality disorder, doesn’t he.” 4 Sep 2009
“I suspect RS is trying to play a game of NIGYSOB ... but doesn’t have a very good hand.”
7 Jan 2010
“... [Dr Stephenson’s appeal was] heard by this myopic judge...” 4 Sep 2009
“….a judge in London ... made a crass judgement...” 4 Sep 2009
“I know an old SAS man ...” 4 Sep 2009
“OK. RS wants blood. I want him to face the issue that his surgery provided a level of care which is not acceptable to me....” 15 July 2009 – this despite Dr Jolliffe never having seen Dr Stephenson’s rebuttals to the allegations and despite favourable patient outcome data in the possession of the PCT.
These quotes were made by medical colleagues of Dr Stephenson within Devon LMC.
When the extraordinary significance of these quotes became clear, Dr Stephenson wrote to the Board of the LMC on 7 December 2010 asking them to consider various aspects of the case that these quotes raised. The request was “treated as a complaint”. By now the LMC had written a complaints policy. Without any further discussion with Dr Stephenson, the “complaint” was determined on 29 December 2010 by Dr Sant (Vice Executive Chairman of the board) thus:
“I am of the opinion that you have provided no new evidence
A further revelation under the DPA showed that on 23 October 2009 the PCT wrote a press statement on Dr Jolliffe’s behalf (.pdf), and purporting to come from him, supporting the PCT's, and particularly Dr Snee’s, actions. This was in preparation for expected press interest in Dr Snee’s new appointment in New Zealand. It was also the time at which the LMC purported to be supporting an independent inquiry into the whole process.
Dr Jolliffe retired in December 2010 after 15 years as Chief Officer.
Devon Primary Trust judgement Last Updated January 2015 Web Page by IT Solutions URL: http://www.devonpctjudgement.co.uk