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Published on the 14 January 2013
Elizabeth Wood and (below) James (left and Richard (right) Stafford when they were young
Elizabeth Wood, of Kibworth, says she feels she has done all she can for her son after an investigation by the General Medical Council (GMC) into the treatment of her son Richard Stafford ruled the standard of care he received was below that expected.
The council’s report concluded that Mr Stafford was given a strong anti-depressant drug for almost two months at doses above the national guidance and without the adequate supervision.
The report says the conduct of the GP who prescribed the medication did not meet the standards required of a doctor and risked bringing the profession into disrepute.
The GP – who the Mail is not naming at the request of Mrs Wood – has been given a warning over his conduct.
“I feel that by my story being published it sets the record straight.”
Mr Stafford died aged 34 in September 2009 after taking an overdose of chlormethiazole – which had been prescribed by his GP to treat depression and alcohol dependency – and another anti-depressant, citalopram.
Leicester Coroner’s Office delivered a verdict of suicide, but Mrs Wood, an emergency nurse practioner, was disappointed her son’s medical records had not been consulted and started her own investigation.
She said: “Richard’s wife had left him and he was very depressed and had been drinking a lot. “The inquest ruled it was suicide but I felt there was more to it so I pressed the matter.
“I knew the treatment he received from his GP was below the standard he should have expected.” Mrs Wood complained to Leicestershire Primary Care Trust but said she felt the matter was being swept under the carpet so went to the GMC.
The GMC ruled that the dosage and amount of time Mr Stafford was prescribed chlormethiazole was not supported by national guidelines.
It also criticised the use of the drug to treat alcohol withdrawal syndrome and the keeping of records at the practice.
In its warning to the GP, the GMC states: “While this failing in itself is not so serious as to require any restriction on your registration, it is necessary in response to issue this formal warning.”
The GP told the GMC the practice had launched a review since Mr Stafford’s death, improving record keeping, limiting prescriptions to patients with drug or alcohol problems, and halting prescriptions of chlormethiazole.
Mrs Wood’s battle had been made all the more difficult by the death of another of her sons, James Stafford, in June last year. In November the coroner delivered an open verdict on James’ death, after doctors were unable to determine the cause of death.
James was found in his Kibworth flat in a sleeping position, he had been happy in the weeks leading up to his death, and there were no signs of excessive alcohol or drugs in his system.
Mrs Wood said: “I wanted the General Medical Council findings about Richard published as without my medical knowledge there would have been no examination of his notes and the problem would have remained within the primary care trust.
“I’m in the medical profession so I knew what I was talking about, but other people maybe wouldn’t have asked the right questions or accepted the verdict.
“I want to raise awareness because I believe that in the case of suicide that medical notes should always be looked at by an appropriate body.”
NHS Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland medical director Professor Aly Rashid said: “I met with Elizabeth Wood, Richard’s mother, to personally offer condolences and to explain the actions taken to address her concerns.
“Mrs Wood agreed that all her points had been addressed and answers provided.
“However, understandably, she also sought redress against the practitioner via the General Medical Council as the medical practitioners’ regulatory body.
“In answer to Mrs Wood’s view that the primary care trust did not feel that sanctions were warranted; in this case, the GP and his practice co-operated fully with the trust to provide all the required information without the need for formal investigation.
“The Reference Committee, which deals with GPs’ fitness to practice, therefore decided that the completion of a formal and detailed action plan by the GP would cover all Mrs Wood’s points of concern. In addition, we were also aware that the case was being thoroughly examined by the General Medical Council and there were no other reported concerns about this GP’s practice.
“Progress against the GP’s action plan has been assessed during his annual appraisal and overseen by the medical directorate.”
Professor Rashid added: “At all times we treated Mrs Wood’s concerns seriously and we, once again, offer our condolences to Richard Stafford’s family”.