Sacked GP fights to get job back

EXCLUSIVEBy Patrick LowmanA DOCTOR who was sacked after admitting serious professional misconduct for having an affair with a patient is considering legal proceedings to restore his tattered career.

EXCLUSIVE

By Patrick Lowman

A DOCTOR who was sacked after admitting serious professional misconduct for having an affair with a patient is considering legal proceedings to restore his tattered career.

Dr Michael Leeper said he was disappointed at the way his former partners at the Hardwicke House Surgery in Sudbury had expelled him, just days after he suffered a mental breakdown, from the rural practice he had set up in Clare in 1992.

"I am very angry about being expelled. I am truly saddened and distressed by their reaction," he added.

The GP is considering launching the legal battle for the sake of his patients and long-term partner, Alison Wilkinson, whose overwhelming support he said had given him the confidence and courage to battle through the humiliation and turmoil he had suffered since losing his job.

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Today, Dr Leeper, 48, and Miss Wilkinson, 40, speak for the first time about the ordeal, which they admitted had sent them to "hell and back".

The couple said the events of the past year had almost killed their relationship, had cost them more than £70,000 in lost wages and legal bills and had destroyed Dr Leeper's career and reputation.

Dr Leeper appeared before the General Medical Council last month after admitting having a periodic 11-month affair with woman patient, known as Miss A.

The affair started in March 2002 after Dr Leeper had separated with his wife and when Miss Wilkinson was pregnant with their daughter, Isabel, now 20 months old.

Dr Leeper said he had had the affair when at a "low ebb" and suffering with deep depression. At the time he had major problems in his personal life and was living apart from his four children, following the separation from his wife.

The General Medical Council decided not to strike Dr Leeper off, but instead ordered him to work under supervision for a period of two years.

Its decision was based on the GP's previous unblemished record, the overwhelming support he received from hundreds of his patients, his openness throughout the investigation and the fact he had not worked for a year.

Although Dr Leeper escaped being struck off, his career was already effectively in tatters after bosses at Hardwicke House Surgery expelled him from his Stonehall Surgery in Clare on March 6, 2003, just nine days after he told them he had suffered a mental breakdown.

Dr Leeper had gone into partnership with the practice in 2002, but had operated alone out of the Clare surgery, treating 2,200 patients on his books.

His year of turmoil began on February 25, 2003, when he called a partner and the practice manager from Hardwicke House Surgery to his home in Mary Lane, Hundon, to confess to the affair.

He said: "I explained to them I had been a very stupid person and that I had been having a relationship with a patient.

"I also told them I was significantly depressed and getting worse as a result of the my personal difficulties over the past two years. They just listened and at first seemed supportive."

The next day Dr Leeper's condition worsened and he called a psychiatrist, who diagnosed a mental breakdown caused by sub-clinical depression and he was put on indefinite sick leave.

The following day, February 27, the Hardwick House Surgery wrote a letter to Dr Leeper demanding his immediate resignation.

After seeking advice from the Medical Protection Society, he instructed a solicitor, who contacted Hardwicke House Surgery to say Dr Leeper was not fit enough to attend any meetings and it would not be appropriate for him to resign.

Dr Leeper then received a letter from the practice on March 14, saying he had been expelled from the practice as from March 6.

"I decided to tell my partners about my actions because I had come clean to Alison and there was a high risk of the affair coming out into the open. I know what I did was serious and very wrong," said the GP.

"I personally feel I have been very badly let down by my former partners. I didn't expect them to turn around within 36 hours and effectively get rid of me. They didn't seem to have taken my personal circumstances and my previous record into account.

"Although I can't disagree with their decision, although I think it was very harsh, I am very critical of they way they did it. They could have considered my mental health and suspended me."

Miss Wilkinson, a carer for children with severe physical disabilities, added: "I think the way he has been treated is disappointing.

"I know he made a very serious mistake - at one stage I was going to throw him out of the home - but he was not the only one involved. I think it is wrong the woman is allowed to keep her anonymity in this case and Michael has to take all the humiliation and shame.

"We have only heard one side of the story, but there were two people involved in this affair. The woman cannot be an innocent victim, she must have known exactly what she was doing."

The Hardwicke House Surgery reported Dr Leeper to the General Medical Council after receiving a complaint over his conduct from the husband of the woman involved in the affair.

The GP is now considering launching legal proceedings against Hardwicke House Surgery to try to get him back into his Stonehall Surgery.

"My ultimate goal is to regain my practice which I had worked so hard to establish and keep alive for the sake of my patients," said Dr Leeper.

"I am limited in what I can say, but my solicitor is challenging Hardwicke House to get my surgery back. I want to get back to work as soon as possible and preferably in Clare.

"I am overwhelmed by the support I have received from my patients, which has helped restore my confidence and allowed me to hold my head up high. I would now like the chance to repay them by becoming their doctor again."

A spokesman for Hardwicke House Surgery declined to comment, other than to say: "Dr Leeper left the partnership, but the details are confidential. As he is no longer a partner, he will not be coming back."

patrick.lowman@eadt.co.uk

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