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Suspended doctor fears being struck off medical register over Just Stop Oil protest

8 May 2024, 09:53 | Updated: 8 May 2024, 10:00

A suspended doctor has said she fears being permanently struck off from the medical register over her participation in a climate protest.
A suspended doctor has said she fears being permanently struck off from the medical register over her participation in a climate protest. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Freddie Hall and Amara Sophia Elahi

A doctor who has been suspended from the medical register for taking part in a climate protest has told LBC she fears being permanently struck off.

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Dr Sarah Benn, from Birmingham, spent 32 days in prison after breaking a court injunction by obstructing a highway during a Just Stop Oil protest at the Kingsbury oil terminal in Warwickshire in 2022.

LBC also understands there are other doctors going through this fitness-to-practice process because of involvement in climate protests.

Dr Benn insists that her campaigning has no impact on her ability to provide patient care.

She said that it’s “unlikely” that she’ll change her position over climate activism and believes the “likely” outcome after her five month suspension is “erasure” from the medical register.

The General Medical Council (GMC), which referred the case, said Dr Benn's conduct in breaking a court injunction had brought the profession into disrepute and damaged public trust.

But Dr Benn said that she had show “integrity” and “leadership” by protesting for Just Stop Oil, an argument also made by Dr Matthew Lee from Doctors' Association UK who said that he’s yet “to see any evidence that (Dr Benn’s) actions have actually undermined public trust” from the surveys carried out by his association.

Responding to the suspension ruling against Dr Benn, Dr Latifa Patel, BMA representative body chair and workforce lead, said: "We need urgent consideration on the rules as to why a doctor has been suspended for the punishment they already received for taking part in a legitimately peaceful protest, especially as the climate crisis is also a health crisis and as such doctors are understandably concerned.

“Dr Benn’s actions and her resulting custodial sentence posed no threat to patients, but her suspension implies they do. It is now time for the GMC and the medical profession to review the basis on which Dr Benn found herself in front of a medical tribunal.”

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Dr Benn told LBC she believes the “likely” outcome after her five month suspension is “erasure” from the medical register.
Dr Benn told LBC she believes the “likely” outcome after her five month suspension is “erasure” from the medical register. Picture: LBC

It comes as LBC can also reveal that doctors taking part in advocacy around the conflict in Gaza are allegedly facing similar sanctions.

Dr Omar Abdel-Mannan, founder of Healthcare Workers for Palestine, claimed that doctors speaking out about the humanitarian situation in Gaza are facing censorship and being complained about, leading to concerns that they could be struck off from the medical register.

He revealed that he’s seen “communications” from NHS trusts telling staff to not wear “badges, lapels, scarves or anything that could be associated” with the pro-Palestinian cause.

In March, NHS staff were ‘reminded’ of the dress code policy following an alleged antisemitic incident at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital.

Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust responded to the incident by announcing an investigation into claims a nine-year-old Jewish patient was “denied correct medical care" by a number of "Pro-Palestine" nurses.

In response to LBC’s findings and exclusive interview with Dr Sarah Benn, a GMC spokesperson said: “We recognise the significant impact the ongoing conflict has on doctors, patients, and all those affected.

“Doctors are entitled to personal beliefs, and there is nothing preventing doctors from exercising their right to speak about issues, but this must not affect their relationship with patients, or the treatment they provide or arrange.

“We investigate serious concerns that suggest patient safety or the public’s confidence in doctors may be at risk and we will take action when necessary.

The Department of Health and Social Care declined to comment.

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