Doctor will not be struck off

A DOCTOR who had an affair with a patient was "relieved and delighted" last night after a High Court judge ruled he should not be struck off the medical register.

By Patrick Lowman

A DOCTOR who had an affair with a patient was "relieved and delighted" last night after a High Court judge ruled he should not be struck off the medical register.

Dr Michael Leeper, who has served the community of Clare since the 1980s, is now looking forward to resurrecting his career, which was thrown into turmoil when he admitted to an 11-month affair with a patient, identified only as Miss A, in 2002.

Because of legal reasons, Dr Leeper was unable to make any comment on the court ruling, but last night his partner, Alison Wilkinson, said: "Michael is very relieved and delighted at the decision that has been made.

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"I am also pleased we have got a just result. The judge was wise enough to realise this was not a one-sided affair, as it was portrayed by Miss A.

"We now want to put this whole episode behind us and get on with our lives. It has been a very stressful time for us and now we want to move on."

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Two weeks ago, Dr Leeper, 49, was at the High Court for proceedings brought against him by the newly created watchdog, the Council for the Regulation of Heath Care Professionals (CRHP).

The CRHP was given wide powers by the Government after a series of medical scandals – including the case of killer doctor Harold Shipman – to oversee the behaviour of medical professionals.

The body felt the doctor was treated too leniently when he appeared before the General Medical Council earlier this year to admit serious professional misconduct by having the affair.

The GMC decided not to suspend him, but ordered him to work under supervision for two years.

The CRHP claimed Dr Leeper, who lives in Hundon, near Haverhill, should be struck off, due to the breach of trust involved.

Although High Court Judge Mr Justice Collins decided not to strike Dr Leeper off the register, he said the doctor should have been suspended from his duties when he appeared before the GMC and that he was shown "undue leniency".

The judge said: "There can be no doubt that this was a bad case of its type.

"But there is no need now to impose any suspension as Dr Leeper - an excellent doctor - has in fact not practised medicine for 12 months, and it would not be in the public interest to remove him from practice."

But Mr Justice Collins ruled that the decision not to impose a period of suspension was flawed as it failed "to consider the need to send out the right signals to the profession and to the public and to mark the seriousness of the misconduct".

Following the verdict, Julie Stone, deputy director of the CRHP, said: "What this does is send out a very clear message that suspension is the minimum sanction that should be applied in this type of case.

"The GMC had been unduly lenient, and merely imposing conditions failed to send out the right message to other professionals."

When Dr Leeper appeared before the GMC, no less than 250 testimonials were put forward from patients and fellow practitioners, all testifying to his qualities as a doctor.

Despite strong support for Dr Leeper, his career was already in tatters after his partners at the Sudbury-based Hardwicke House Surgery expelled him from his Stonehall Practice in Clare, even before he appeared before the GMC. He has only recently started part-time work as a GP.

Last night, David Wheeldon, who is leading a campaign to have Dr Leeper reinstated in Clare, said: "We regard the decision as a victory for patient power.

"We feel this was an unnecessary effort by the CRHP and that the GMC's decision was particularly sensible. Dr Leeper is an outstanding and dedicated GP and we are delighted he can continue to work."

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