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Saturday, 20 December 2014

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Cumbrian doctor suspended for failing to refer cancer patient quickly enough

A doctor who failed to refer a patient with cancer quickly enough has been suspended for six months.

Dr Jonathan Ashton photo
Dr Jonathan Ashton

Dr Jonathan Ashton, who worked in a practice in the centre of Carlisle, was found guilty of serious misconduct following a hearing last month.

He has now been suspended from practicing after the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service branded his actions “a very serious failing”.

The panel heard how the 73-year-old patient waited for seven months to be referred and died shortly afterwards as the cancer was too advanced for treatment.

“Doctors occupy a position of privilege and trust in society and are expected to uphold proper standards of conduct,” their report said. “Dr Ashton has continued to deny any fault. His misconduct constitutes a serious departure from the standard expected of a registered medical practitioner.”

Dr Ashton, who has since worked in an A&E department and now does cosmetic procedures, was working at the Grosvenor House Surgery, in Warwick Square, at the time of the incident, in 2008.

The tribunal heard how he had the results of a CT scan for his patient on December 12, 2008, which recommended a referral to hospital but he did not make one until July 16, 2009. When he did finally refer the patient, he only made a routine referral, not an urgent one.

“Dr Ashton was aware of the results which indicated that malignancy could not be excluded,” the report concluded. “[We] accept that an average, reasonably competent GP would have referred the patient urgently to the gastroenterology team.

“The clinical presentation and Dr Ashton’s knowledge of the patient’s history demanded this patient be referred urgently. This was because what was potentially being missed was cancer, which could be life threatening.”

The panel said Dr Ashton had not, “at any time”, acknowledged his actions were inadequate or not in the best interests of the patient.

They said despite the fact that he was no longer working as a GP, “irrespective of his field of practice, a medical practitioner must be able to assess the clinical needs of his patient and make urgent referral decisions when required to do so”.

“Dr Ashton presented a risk to this patient and breached a fundamental tenet of the profession, namely to protect the health of a patient and provide a good standard of care.”

Dr Ashton, 57, had claimed at a previous hearing he did not know he had to make the referral. He did not give any evidence but his solicitors argued that his actions amounted to a breach of duty but not misconduct.

He has been suspended from the medical register with immediate effect.

A spokeswoman for the North Cumbria University Hospitals Trust, which runs Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary, declined to comment on whether he had been working in the hospital’s A&E department.

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