It was work as usual on the Monday and, apart from some disparaging graffiti painted on the surgery front door and kind words of support from some bold patients, the day passed quietly. Our health authority showed its sensitivity by employing Dr Fairhurst's daughter to work in the office at the shared surgery. I am still amazed by this action to this day. The atmosphere was very difficult during those first few weeks until she returned to college.
There were a number of patients, friends, and colleagues of Dr Fairhurst who believed that a terrible error had been made and that he was innocent. Unfortunately the discredited doctor encouraged these people and a support group was started. They tried to make life difficult for me for the next eighteen months with spurious and unfounded allegations, holding local fund raising meetings to finance their cause. The group gradually lost momentum when Dr Fairhurst failed to appeal against the General Medical Council decision, his patients were reassigned to another practice, and the promised exposure of my own wrongdoing failed to materialise. Their action did upset and disturb my family and interfered with my professional life, which I believe was what they intended. What was of greater concern was the future of our jointly owned surgery and how the practice financial affairs would be resolved. This took a further four years and many thousands of pounds in solicitors' fees to resolve.
Geoff Fairhurst and I had joint debts relating to the surgery of around £60 000 in addition to the mortgage. The bank had great difficulty in contacting Dr Fairhurst to discuss repayment of his half of the loans. After two years of constant telephone calls and meetings with the bank, it became obvious that it was prepared, as a last resort, to pursue me for the total amount. It was unable to persuade Geoff Fairhurst to meet and discuss the situation and we became very anxious about our finances. In addition, until this was resolved we were unable to make any investment in the practice or plan for our future. Eventually the bank, after much discussion, persuasion, and help from the medical establishment, decided to divide the debt in half and I repaid my share.The British Medical Association were supportive and helpful during this period of difficulty and their advice was invaluable.
The problem of the surgery premises took a little longer to resolve, and for four years we were unable to use some of the rooms on the insistence of Dr Fairhurst's solicitors. These restrictions precluded my advertising for a partner so I remained single-handed for this period.
Eventually an agreement was struck whereby I bought Dr Fairhurst's share in the surgery and I now wholly own the surgery. The anxiety and stress of the financial complications were unforeseen and were as great as the initial action itself. It was clear throughout this period that, although doctors have a duty to protect patients, there is no mechanism to protect the whistleblowing doctor from the financial repercussions of his or her action. The health authority has no mandate to help in this unusual situation, and I could fully understand a doctor being reluctant to act for fear of financial hardship. The anachronistic partnership laws do not help in these difficult circumstances and, without goodwill, disputes could last interminably.
We have now become a second wave PMS pilot and two doctors and a nurse clinician have joined the team. I am teaching students from Liverpool Medical School one day a week and my enthusiasm for medicine has never been greater.
At the time our action was unprecedented. It succeeded because we were united and committed to exposing the truth. I would not have been able to bring this case to the General Medical Council without the commitment and determination of Dr Min Shah and Jean Young. I know that there are other doctors working in similar situations who are unable for many good reasons to take any action. I hope that recent cases will have raised awareness and alerted professional bodies to the difficulties faced by whistleblowers so that our own experiences are not repeated.
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