BMA Backs Legal Action Over Suicide of Anaesthetist

Peter Russell

June 14, 2021

Editor's note, 14 June 2021: This article was updated with a comment from North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said it would support legal action being taken by the widow of a consultant anaesthetist against the GMC and a hospital trust. Dr Sridharan Suresh took his own life 3 years ago following allegations by a teenage patient of sexual assault.

The consultant was suspended by University Hospital of North Tees in April 2018 after Cleveland police began an investigation into claims made by a 15-year-old girl after he administered midazolam prior to dental surgery at a private practice where he also worked.

According to the BMA, the description the patient gave to the police of her attacker did not match Dr Suresh, leading to the police dropping the case due to insufficient evidence.

Senior managers at the Trust had told Dr Suresh he would not be under investigation by the General Medical Council (GMC), and that they fully supported him, the BMA said.

However, a referral did take place.

'System Failures'

In February 2020, a coroner's inquest heard that after messaging his wife Viji, to say he had done nothing wrong, Dr Suresh drowned himself in the River Tees on May 2, 2018.

In a statement, the BMA said the GMC "should have known there was a real and immediate risk of suicide, and that there were system failures after the GMC failed to take any steps to liaise with Dr Suresh’s employer or the police to assess his vulnerabilities".

Reports at the time of the inquest said that Clare Bailey, senior coroner for Teesside, found that the Trust's failure to pass on the information about the referral "unwittingly led to false reassurances being given to Dr Suresh that a referral was not going to be made and resulted in a missed opportunity to provide him with further support".

The coroner, who recorded a verdict of suicide, said it was clear that Dr Suresh had "an exemplary work record", reports said.

The BMA said it had written to the University Hospital of North Tees alleging that the Trust had contributed to Dr Suresh's decision to take his own life.  It also said that the Trust owed him a duty of care and that it had breached that by wrongly informing Dr Suresh that he would not be referred to the GMC, failing to update Dr Suresh or their medical director when the police made a referral to the GMC, and failing to take steps to protect Dr Suresh's mental health in light of developments.

Support for legal action against the doctor's former employer and the GMC was based on negligence, and under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act – the right to life, the BMA said.

It also said that the Trust could have put appropriate measures in place to provide further support to Dr Suresh, including a more interventionist approach where counselling and occupational health could have been arranged.

In an email to Medscape News UK, a spokesperson for North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust spokesperson commented: "The death of our respected and much valued colleague Dr Sridharan Suresh is a tragedy for his family, his patients and his colleagues who still feel the impact of the loss of this highly skilled and committed clinician. 
"It would not be appropriate for the Trust to comment on any pending legal action."

'New Safeguards'

In an emailed statement, the GMC said: "We are deeply saddened by the tragic case of Dr Suresh and the devastation this has brought his family. It's so important we keep listening, learning, and improving our processes, and we have made a number of changes since the inquest.

"New safeguards including the offer of a phone call with our first email, and pre-disclosure checks following police referrals, will help us ensure sensitive messages are delivered in the best possible way, so extra support can be arranged if necessary.

"We are seeking legislative reform, including greater flexibility, to the way we work with employers and investigate complaints. This will allow us to protect patients and reduce the impact of investigations on doctors."


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