Sunday Times caption: McFarlane was suspended for 12 months (RICKY CHAMPAGNE)
A piece by Andrew Gregory, Health Editor, from the last edition of The Sunday Times. As a senior partner in a GP practice, her income would probably exceed £150,000 p.a., possibly higher.
A family doctor who “indirectly encouraged” an elderly patient to give her more than £189,000 has been suspended for 12 months after a tribunal found the GP guilty of serious misconduct.
Andrea McFarlane referred to the widowed patient as her “angel” in letters found after the retired teacher, now 87, suffered a stroke last year and moved to a care home. The GP, having nurtured an “inappropriate friendship” with the patient between 2004 and 2008, accepted gifts and payments amounting to £189,400.58 over six years, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service found.
The patient “had lost her husband only a few months prior to paying the large sums of money into Dr McFarlane’s account”, the tribunal heard.
The widow, referred to as Patient A, has no children. After her stroke in 2017 she needed 24-hour nursing care. To pay for it, her family decided to sell the widow’s house.
While cleaning it out the patient’s nephew found dozens of cards and letters from McFarlane. He also came across paperwork indicating that a “large sum of money” from an investment had matured but the money was not in his aunt’s bank account. Further inquiries uncovered financial gifts to McFarlane as well as monthly bank payments of £600.
The tribunal was told that the divorced doctor had “severe financial difficulties” in 2012, with debts of about £250,000.
In one letter to the patient, McFarlane, a senior partner at the Crown House Surgery in Retford, Nottinghamshire, said: “Thank you also for all the other goodies and help towards all that life needs sorting. My new tyres, my new locks, fixing my computer, the car service, the gutters needed fixing, the electrician needed to fix lights, the petrol to rugby matches, and so much more.”
McFarlane also accepted a diamond ring, the tribunal was told. Another letter read: “My darling angel, you give me more than I can imagine. As for my birthday I do know of a beautiful thing I have wanted for many years, a silver bracelet. I promise to get that from you.”
In 2008 McFarlane advised the patient to change her doctor. She wrote: “We need to be careful as people may not understand our close friendship, I have grown to love you as my friend which has nothing to do with me being your doctor. The governing bodies such as the GMC are very strict about these things as a patient should be protected from a doctor taking advantage.”
The tribunal found that McFarlane urged the patient to change GP “when there was no clinical justification” and encouraged her to “provide a false explanation of excessive waiting times”.
The actions were “with the intention to conceal the nature of your relationship” with the patient, the tribunal ruled.
It determined that “on the balance of probabilities”, McFarlane did not receive the gifts and payments because of her influence on the widow. However, it concluded that she had “indirectly encouraged” the patient.
The tribunal was told that “by repeatedly stating to Patient A how the financial gifts helped her through financial difficulties, by sending Patient A long ‘thank you’ letters with overfamiliar endearments, and by not declining but repeatedly accepting financial gifts . . . McFarlane indirectly encouraged Patient A to continue to make payments.”
The tribunal was told that the GP has apologised to the patient’s family but has not repaid the money. It said a review hearing should take place “towards the end of the 12-month suspension”.
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