High Court defends journalist's right to go undercover in GP sick-note sting

The High Court has ruled that a GP caught in a Sunday newspaper "sting" over sicknotes should face the General Medical Council.

The GMC stayed disciplinary proceedings against Dr Gurpinder Saluja, from Walthamstow, east London, after ruling that he had been "pressurised" and was a victim of entrapment by an undercover journalist.

The decision was challenged, in the first case of its kind, by the
Council for the Regulation of Healthcare Professionals (CRHP).

Mr Justice Goldring
allowed the appeal, quashed the panel's decision, and said the case
against Dr Saluja should go ahead and, if appropriate, sanctions should
be imposed.

Dr Saluja was one of a number of GPs selected at random to be asked to
provide a sickness certificate by Sunday Times journalist Rachel Dobson,
who was clearly not ill.

The journalist entered Dr Saluja's consulting room in Fulborne Road,
Walthamstow, in November 2003 on the pretext of being a patient and
covertly recorded their conversation.

It was alleged in the charge against the doctor that the journalist told
him she wanted time off work and to have a holiday, and had made it
clear that illness was not the basis of her request for a certificate,
and the doctor advised her to make an appointment with him nearer the

It was alleged the doctor said that for £1,000 he could not provide a
certificate in advance, but could provide one a couple of days before
the stage she would require it, notwithstanding that she would not be

It was alleged he had suggested she could state that she was suffering
from "stress or depression, or whatever you feel like", though she
should not mention that she wanted a holiday.

It was also alleged he said: "I can guarantee that I will give it (the
certificate) you at that time…."

Dr Saluja stands accused of "inappropriate and dishonest actions" and
being guilty of serious professional misconduct.

But last January the disciplinary panel concluded that Dr Saluja was
subject to entrapment, and said it would be "disproportionate" to
receive evidence gained through methods which were so "improper".

The covertly-recorded evidence of the conversation between Dr Saluja and
the journalist was excluded and the proceedings stayed.

Defending the right of journalists to go "undercover" to expose alleged
wrongdoing, the judge said: "Some disciplinary offences – particularly
where the patient has an interest in keeping quiet – will only come to
light through the use of techniques such as were used here."

The evidence against Dr Saluja should not be excluded on the basis of
entrapment, and the panel's decision to exclude it would be quashed,
said the judge.


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