GP hanged herself through stress

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The Independent Online

A family doctor described by her patients as "an angel" hanged herself because of stress at work, an inquest heard yesterday.

Dr Dawn Harris, who worked at the Lever Chambers practice in Bolton, Lancashire, was described by the coroner as "a perfectionist in an inadequate and imperfect system".

Bury coroners' court was told that Dr Harris, 38, became "angry, very distressed and quite hurt" by problems at the busy medical practice.

Dr Harris's death was discovered by her husband, Michael Churchill, 39, at the couple's home in Bury, Greater Manchester, on 2 August last year.

After the couple visited a pub together, Dr Harris had told her husband she was very tired and would be asleep at home when he returned.

Mr Churchill, a freelance internet designer, found his wife hanging from the stairway banisters by a dressing-gown cord.

The inquest heard that Dr Harris was one of four GPs working at the NHS surgery, which has 6,700 people on its register. Although she loved caring for her patients, she was worried by the increasing governmental red tape and demands to meet an escalating number of targets.

The inquest also heard that Dr Harris suffered very low self-esteem, was on antidepressants and felt unworthy of the love she was given.

The inquest was also told that Dr Harris tried to commit suicide in February 2001 after results of a blood test were not passed on to one of her dying patients while she was away on holiday.

A long-term friend, Alison Sheard, said: "She was devastated by the omission. She was extremely upset for the family."

Dr Harris began a course of the antidepressant Lustral, which she tried to stop on a number of occasions before her death but returned to it because her depression came back without it.

Despite her struggles with depression, she was looking forward to a holiday in South Africa in November last year and her own 40th birthday with friends and family.

Recording a verdict of suicide, the coroner, Simon Nelson, said: "This was an untimely and tragic death of a highly respected member of the medical profession. She was driven by a commitment and devotion and love of her patients and work. She had achieved her primary goals in her professional life and was a perfectionist in an inadequate and imperfect system."

Mr Nelson said that statistically there were a high number of cases of self-harm in the medical profession and questioned whether there existed systems to deal with the problem. "That is a matter for the governing body of that profession," he said.

According to a recent study, GPs' suicides run at two to three times that of the general population, with young women particularly at risk.

Dr Harris was one of three full-time GPs at Lever Chambers, who were assisted by a part-time GP. Dr Christopher Wakefield, Lever Chambers' senior partner, told the inquest that Dr Harris often stayed behind after work to complete paperwork and would sometimes take paperwork home with her. He said: "In terms of the number of patients she saw and surgery sessions she did it was the same as anyone else. But because of the way Dr Harris conducted herself and her conscientious and caring nature the type of patients that became attached to her could often take up more time than other patients."

Mr Churchill said that his wife found it difficult to forget about work after she had left the surgery. He said she often said she wished she could keep her work problems separate from her family and social life.