United Kingdom

Junior doctor, 32, caught fiddling NHS expenses avoids being struck off

A junior doctor caught fiddling expenses on the NHS has escaped career ruin after he blamed his behaviour on having a 'disorganised and chaotic' home life.

Dr Damian Duffy, 32, repeatedly submitted false mileage and timesheet claims for journeys he never made and for shifts he did not work over a four-month period.

He also forged a senior colleague's signature in a bid to get the claims authorised before he was found out and sacked from his job as a locum speciality doctor at two hospitals.

At the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, married Duffy formerly of Leeds, West Yorks, faced being struck off for dishonesty and misconduct but he was instead suspended from medical practice for 12 months after he told a disciplinary panel his life at home had been a 'real nightmare.'

Dr Damian Duffy claimed to have worked at the Waterside Hospital in Londonderry, Northern Ireland over a four-month period where he submitted false mileage and timesheet claims

The medic – whose wife runs a successful business – said he was so absent-minded and muddled over his average day, he had since set up an app on his mobile phone to tick off a list of daily tasks he had to do.

He also now kept a diary and installed a white board on his kitchen wall to make notes of important events.

He further claimed he was on a 'journey of remediation' and had since offered to repay the stolen money to the NHS – the amount of which was not quantified at the Manchester hearing.

Tribunal chairman Lindsay Irvine said: 'Dr Duffy's dishonest actions were persistent and multiple and occurred over a relatively short period of time. His inability to remember certain issues and not others made him appear, at times, evasive. 

'He also appeared rehearsed in relation to his assertion of genuine belief in response to questions relating to the credibility of his actions.

'But he has undertaken some steps to remediate his misconduct, albeit late in the day. These include his apologies to his former colleagues, an offer to repay the monies which he received dishonestly, and some training related to ethics and probity.

'The Tribunal also accepted to a degree, that Dr Duffy's dishonest actions were influenced by his difficult personal and financial circumstances at that time. Powerful testimonial evidence from Dr Duffy's colleagues and patients speak of him as a highly regarded, well liked and a competent doctor. He now has a good support network to help, should any similar family situations arise in the future.

'Whilst it was true that Dr Duffy had let down his employer and colleagues through his misconduct, it had not involved any abuse of his professional position in relation to patients.'

The inquiry began after suspicions were raised about hours Duffy claimed to have worked at the Waterside Hospital in Londonderry, Northern Ireland between February and May 2017. 

He falsely claimed to have worked eight-hour shifts when he had not and had submitted fake travel claims of up to 30 miles at a time for non-existent journeys to patient's homes.

He was later summoned to a meeting of the Western Health and Social Care Trust in June 2017 after discrepancies over the claims were discovered during checks of the work rota. He was subsequently dismissed and reported to the General Medical Council.

Laura Barbour lawyer for the GMC told the hearing: 'The steps which Dr Duffy has taken to remediate his misconduct are not genuine. He accepts that integrity and honesty are fundamental aspects of the medical profession and yet he behaved in the way he did. 

'He is perhaps overly optimistic that he has put in place adequate measures to help address any similar difficulties in the future. His misconduct was persistent and repeated, an abuse of position and trust and was dishonest.'

In an initial statement Duffy said: 'At the time my personal and work life was chaotic and disorganised. When I completed the timesheets, I was already late in submitting them. I entered approximately 165 journeys on travelsheets in three or four sessions over a two-week period at the end of March and at the beginning of April 2017.

'Although I did not have his rota to check against, I believed I was able to identify patients I had visited by their surname because he had a good recollection of patients' names and I used Google maps to work out the distance I would have travelled. I wanted to give the impression I was more organised than I actually was.

'At the time of submission, I believed the mileage claims to be genuine. I was not aware that any of the information was incorrect.'

But later in evidence to the hearing Duffy said he now realised he had been dishonest after speaking to his best friend about the scam.

He added: 'My life was disorganised and a real nightmare and after my dismissal I put in place a number of measures to help me to manage my daily life. I set an app on my mobile phone in which I organised daily tasks in priority order. As I completed each task, I would tick a box to indicate I had completed it. I also use a diary to manage tasks or to remind me of specific tasks and events.

'Added to this, I have a white board on the kitchen wall on which significant events or tasks are marked. These measures help me manage my daily stresses and difficulties.

'Initially, I was in denial about the significance of what I had done and felt ashamed of it. I just buried my head in the sand. I felt like I was in a hellish place and could not see what I was doing was wrong. My journey of remediation should have started in 2017.'

Dr Duffy's lawyer Richard Partridge said: 'The misconduct, although persistent, did not take place over a long period of time and occurred at a time when he was a junior doctor, and was experiencing difficult personal circumstances. Dr Duffy's reflection statement was authentic and he poured his heart out. He felt bad about forging the signature and did not fully understand that what he was doing was wrong.

'He has continued to practise for some two and a half years in an exemplary fashion and as Dr Duffy has got older, he has got wiser, in contrast to his naivety at the time. 

'This was a young man who got himself in a dreadful state and behaved badly, but has now reached a level of awareness as to how and why he got there. The loss of professional status would be devastating for him.'

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