Patients were put in danger by chaotic GP, whistleblowers claim

Tim Hume
Monday 03 October 2011 00:00

A pair of whistleblowers say patients at a doctor's surgery were endangered when a primary care trust failed to act promptly on complaints about a GP. The women, a locum GP and a nurse, are calling for an independent inquiry.

They accuse the Oxfordshire PCT of mishandling their complaint by failing to notify patients adequately of the "significant risk" to their safety. Their complaints relate to Dr Mark Huckstep, who worked as a sole practitioner at the Kendall Crescent Health Centre on the outskirts of Oxford.

He also ran a branch surgery in the village of Wolvercote, and performed work for five nursing homes. Nurse Loo Blackburn and locum GP Dr Christine Slowther joined Dr Huckstep's surgery in June and July last year, and were immediately concerned by the "catastrophic" conditions at the practice. Of most concern was medical correspondence which had allegedly not been acted upon, including abnormal blood test results, letters about MRI scans, cancer referrals and recommended medication and treatment changes.

The whistleblowers, whose case is featured in Channel 4's Dispatches programme tonight, discovered that an NHS assessment into Dr Huckstep had been ordered a year earlier.

The review recommended a coaching and mentoring process which had yet to be implemented.

Dr Huckstep was suspended pending investigation from the Oxfordshire Medical Performers List in August 2010,and subsequently resigned. The Independent understands that complaints against him were referred to the General Medical Council. The GMC pointed out that pending any 'public decisions for this doctor', he remains fully registered with a licence to practise.

Peter Walsh, chief executive of national charity Action against Medical Accidents, said the PCT had shown a "staggering disregard" for the right of patients to know how they were affected by the substandard care. He obtained minutes from an internal PCT meeting six months after Dr Huckstep was suspended which revealed "a system for advising of any harm done is currently not in place".

Dr Slowther said: "I am aware that even the most exemplary of GPs can make mistakes but the concern in this case was of the apparent comprehensive failure of patient safety, and of the PCT's detailed knowledge and assessment without timely intervention."

Both complainants are pursuing legal claims for compensation.

Dr Huckstep said it was "a matter for regret" that systems for dealing with correspondence were "not operating properly" but claimed the problem was not as severe as the complainants had believed. Allegations of delayed and missed cancer referrals were inaccurate, he said. He said he had decided not to return to medicine.

Dr Richard Green, lead of clinical governance at Oxfordshire PCT, told Dispatches that the matter was not acceptable "but that all through the process we had done everything that we reasonably could. When we actually looked in detail at all those results and all the letters, very, very few patients – thankfully – had come to harm."

Asked whether he would feel comfortable having been a patient of Dr Huckstep,Dr Green said: "With hindsight now, no. At the time we were working with him, I think the answer would have been yes."

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