HOW A GOOD DOCTOR ENDED UP ON THE HEALTH BOARD’S SCRAPHEAP
Dr David Neilson, his wife, Carolyn, and their daughter, Amelia.
First published on Wednesday, 02 August 2017
Exclusive by Bill Heaney
Cardross GP David Neilson, whose contract at Dumbarton Health Centre was terminated amid huge controversy, was asked to attend an interview for a new post – at Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow.
Despite the fact that more than 1200 of his 2000-patient panel signed a petition to NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board to keep their family doctor in post, Dr Neilson was told to report at the prison for interview at 10am on Monday.
At the couple’s home in the hills above Cardross, Argyll and Bute, the doctor’s wife, Carolyn, said: “It would appear that the Health Board is determined to publicly humiliate my husband. He is an excellent doctor who is loved and admired by his patients. David has been in the practice in the Dumbarton and Helensburgh area for the past 12 years and has done nothing to merit the scandalous way he is now being treated.”
She added that her husband had made “am administrative error” three months ago when he ended the contract with his part-time partner, Dr Claire McGonagle, whose husband owns the Rowan Gallery in West Clyde Street, Helensburgh. There had been difficulties and disputes between the two GPs and, after taking advice from the BMA, Dr Neilson ended the contract.
One particular dispute, it is alleged, centred on Dr McGonagle wanting Dr Neilson to work fewer sessions and to allow her to train people from the Scottish Ambulance Service, for which she also works, at the practice. Another was that she did not want Dr Fiona Downie, a former partner in the practice, working there as a locum.
Mrs Neilson said: “David’s position was that these changes were not in the best interests of his patients and that Dr Downie would stay. The Health Board have taken advantage of the situation because they don’t like my husband and see him as a threat. The reason they don’t like him is because, in line with his duty as a doctor, he has raised safety concerns in the past. He has also taken steps to ensure they honour certain obligations and criticised them for not following their own policies. They are being vindictive and cruel.”
She added: “They see him not as a good doctor but as a whistle-blower and an irritant because he flagged up what he viewed were practices within the local health service which he considered unsafe for the patients.”
Dr Neilson’s intention had been to continue to operate the contract on his own, assisted by Dr Downie, widow of the late Dr Alistair Boyd, until he found a new partner. But the West Dunbartonshire Social Care and Health Partnership and NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board said this was unacceptable.
Keith Redpath, Chief Officer of the HSCP, moved swiftly and put the practice contract out to tender, inviting GPs from other practices in Dumbarton Health Centre to bid for it. A dismayed Dr Neilson was told he would not be allowed to bid for his own practice. Despite this setback, however, he agreed to provide cover until August 1 when new arrangements would be in place, while Dr McGonagle said she would not be available for cover.
“The health and welfare of my patients had to take precedence over any personal concerns,” said Dr Neilson, who is 56.
Eventually the GP said he was overburdened and becoming stressed running the practice on his own – “it was killing me,” he said – and sought to have a locum, but the HSCP said it would be “inappropriate”. He has now been signed off work by his own GP for the next two months. Patients, who were upset and angry at this turn of events, and who found getting appointments and prescriptions ever more difficult, launched an on-line petition to save Dr Neilson’s job. This attracted 1200 signatures and was presented to the HSPC by former Conservative councillor Euan Gear.
Board chairperson John Brown and chief executive Jane Grant declined to attend the petition handover. Both the chairperson and the CEO have declined to comment, although Keith Redpath said that by not following precisely the Health Board rules laid down for partnership dissolution Dr Neilson had been “the author of his own misfortune”.
He admitted however that no politicians and only officials had been involved in the decision to dispense with Dr Neilson’s services.
“We have absolutely no complaint about Dr Neilson’s qualities as a doctor,” Mr Redpath added.
Carolyn Neilson said that her husband had declined to attend the Barlinnie job interview and that he would be going to his surgery in Dumbarton on Monday as usual.
Patricia Morrison, the Health Board’s Primary Care Support manager based in Glasgow, e-mailed Dr Neilson asking what items of furniture in his surgery are his, and what he was removing. Then on Friday she wrote to him again saying that the neighbouring Levenside Practice, which had won the tendering process to take over his contract, might want to buy some of it. At the beginning of last week, Dr Neilson arrived at the health centre to find another doctor’s nameplate on the door of his room.
Dr Saied Pourghazi is one of six GPs in Levenside Practice who have taken over Dr Neilson’s practice. The others are Dr Fergus MacLean, Dr Chris Tervit, Dr Fiona Maxwell Dr Katie Mitchell and a new recruit, Dr Parvinder Dhillon.
Mrs Neilson said Dr Pourghazi had not been in touch with her husband and had last Wednesday, together with various Health Board managers, held a meeting with her husband’s staff.
Carolyn Neilson said: “David was not invited and Dr Pourghazi and his partners have made no contact with David. Some doctors appear to be deliberately avoiding him.”
Keith Redpath’s successor as chief officer of the HSCP, Beth Culshaw, notified Dr Neilson about the Barlinnie appointment on Thursday last.
But Mrs Neilson said: “After consideration he has decided he’s not going. He has no idea what to expect when he goes into the Health Centre on Monday as nobody has told him.
“David, I would say, is in a very poor state. He is exhausted and emotionally drained. He has been treated appallingly. His own GP has signed him off work for eight weeks with stress.”
Meanwhile, Dr Neilson continues to be employed in the Out of Hours Service from Vale of Leven Hospital, which involves providing GP cover in Helensburgh, the Lochside and as far north as Lochgilphead in Argyll and Bute.
Jackie Baillie, the Labour MSP for Dumbarton and Helensburgh, has pleaded with Shona Robison, the Health Secretary, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, to intervene and investigate the case, but there has been no response from them.
The Neilsons have a 14-year-old daughter, Amelia.
Carolyn Neilson said: “Our life has been turned upside down and our whole future is in jeopardy. David’s patients have been deprived of his services, yet we have been met with a wall of silence from the people who are supposed to be responsible for our health service.
“The Barlinnie Prison interview offer is cruel, unbelievable and humiliating.”
- Bill Heaney writes: Since this report was written I went to Edinburgh to meet the Health Minister, Shona Robinson, who appeared to accept that Dr Neilson had been dealt with unfairly and gave me a commitment that his case would be passed back down the line where steps would be taken to rectify matters. Since then little or nothing has transpired to change matters. Dr Neilson has had a meeting with Beth Culshaw, the new chief officer of the HSPC, and an HR officer, Tom Quinn, but all that has happened is that he has been directed to a list of (not very attractive) job opportunities on the Health Board HR website.