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Anger as NHS children's doctor suspended for six months after using wife's TfL travel card to travel London for free
23 March 2023, 14:00
An NHS doctor at Great Ormond Street Hospital has been suspended from his job for six months after using his wife's free Transport for London (TfL) travel card.
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Dr James Ip was found to have acted dishonestly by an investigation by the British Medical Council. The regulator said his actions risked undermining the reputation of the profession.
But other NHS workers said the suspension was unfair, because he had not put any patients at risk by using the free travel card, Mail Online reported.
They said the punishment could hurt patients by taking a doctor out of service at a time of huge backlogs after the pandemic.
Dr Ip, an experienced doctor who qualified more than 20 years ago, is a consultant paediatric cardiac anaesthetist at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
He was caught using a TfL travel card at Hammersmith Station on February 7 last year. He admitted using the travel card 54 more times between December 13, 2021 and February 4, 2022. It is unclear why his wife has a free travel pass, although TfL employees are given them.
He paid a £500 fine, as well as £297 in costs.
The GMC said that the doctor's actions did not pose any danger to patients, that he was well-respected professionally, and there is no evidence his work fell below the required standards.
But he broke the rules repeatedly and represented a significant breach of the GMC's code: "You must make sure that your conduct justifies your patient’s trust in you and the public’s trust in the profession."
Dr Ip said that he used the travel card partly out of anger that NHS staff had to pay to get around on public transport during the pandemic.
But he added: "I see now that this rationalisation was illogical, immoral and wrong.
"I recognise that fare evasion is a form of theft and free loading from other passengers and there was no excuse for not paying for my tickets.
"I have since admitted my wrongdoing and apologised to Transport for London for my conduct."
Half of Dr Ip's journeys on the travel card were for personal reasons not related to his job, the GMC pointed out. The dates of his breaches were after lockdowns were lifted.
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The tribunal sided with the GMC over Dr Ip, saying: "On each occasion the tribunal determined that Dr Ip must have known that what he was doing was wrong, but he did not stop until he was caught."
The panel ruled that a six-month suspension was appropriate, adding: "He has breached one of the fundamental tenets of the medical profession by acting dishonestly."
Some of Dr Ip's fellow doctors reacted with fury to the ruling.
Neurologist Dr David Nicholl wrote: "Dear parent, Gt Ormond St are REALLY sorry but your child’s heart op is delayed 6 months… as our cardiac anaesthetist has been suspended 6 months by the GMC for using his wife’s Oyster card, for which he was already fined, we’re sure you’ll be pleased with this".
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Dr Matt Bigwood of the Doctors’ Association UK said: "We at The Doctors’ Association UK are again left shocked and angered by the actions of the GMC,' he said.
"The suspension of six months for Dr Ip for the offence committed is totally disproportionate, with other much more serious offences (e.g. drink driving and sexual offences) often getting commensurate suspensions.
"He has already admitted to the fraud, shown remorse and accepted the punishment."
But others backed the suspension
Dr Joel Giblett, a cardiologist at Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, said: "You can’t dishonestly commit fraud repeatedly over an extended course and think there’s no consequence. It wasn’t a one off. It only stopped when he was caught."
Kathye King, who said her child was awaiting surgery at Great Ormond Street, said she supported the suspension.
"Quite honestly I would prefer a member of staff who was honest because if someone is willing to break the law over one thing means they are likely to be doing so elsewhere," she said.