Thursday, June 20, 2024

Tribunal: Just Stop Oil doctor’s fitness to practice ‘impaired’ – BBC News

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Image source, Just stop oil

Image caption, Dr Sarah Benn said she did not take the protests and disruptions she had participated in lightly

  • Author, Eleanor Lawson
  • Role, BBC News, West Midlands

A tribunal has found a doctor’s fitness to practise to be impaired due to misconduct after she was involved in a number of Just Stop Oil protests.

Dr Sarah Benn, a GP in Birmingham until 2022, was arrested after taking part in demonstrations at the Kingsbury oil terminal in Warwickshire.

The General Medical Council (GMC) said the proceedings were not brought as a reaction to her participation in protests, but the fact that her actions broke the law and resulted in her imprisonment.

The tribunal said it must now consider what sanction, if any, to impose on the doctor’s registration.

Dr Benn said as a doctor, she had a moral duty to take action to protect life and health and that the climate emergency was a health emergency which was “happening now”.

At the tribunal, the 57-year-old referred to the British Medical Journal and stated they were calling on governments and leaders to act urgently on climate change, especially those in wealthier countries such as the UK.

She also submitted that there was evidence that non-violent direct action helped to change policy and law, and that this had been proven by history, citing the example of the Suffragette movement.

She added: “How could my patients trust me again, if I didn’t take action to confront the greatest health crisis we face?”

Ms Rolfe, acting as counsel on behalf of the GMC, said that Dr Benn’s conduct had brought the profession into disrepute because she had broken the law by failing to comply with the injunction against protests at the Kingsbury oil terminal on multiple occasions.

She added that Dr Benn’s fitness to practise was impaired as her conduct failed to justify patients’ trust in the profession.

Ms Rolfe submitted that it was not the taking part in protests the GMC had issue with, but the risk to the public’s trust in and respect for doctors by seeing a doctor flouting the law and openly stating her intention to keep breaking the law.

She added that while Dr Benn had stated there may be members of the public who, both now and in the future, will agree with what she had done, there will also be groups of society, “that do not agree, do not understand, and can never understand”.

The tribunal said in its findings: “The public must be able to trust that doctors will always act within the law.”

Image source, Just Stop Oil

Image caption, Dr Sarah Benn said she had a moral duty to take action to protect life and health

The hearing related to three peaceful protests Just Stop Oil conducted outside the Kingsbury oil terminal on 26 April 2022, 4 May 2022, and 14 September 2022.

An injunction had previously been granted against people participating in climate change protests in the locality of the terminal.

A high court judge sentenced Dr Benn to eight days on remand in custody for the events of 26 April and 4 May, after she failed to answer her bail on 4 May and instead attended a protest at the terminal.

On 14 September, Dr Benn was arrested along with 51 others after obstructing a private access road, preventing vehicle access in and out of the terminal.

As a result of this, she received a sentence of 32 days imprisonment.

Dr Benn spent the majority of her career as a GP in inner city Birmingham and as a GP trainer and undergraduate tutor.

During the pandemic, she worked remotely for NHS 111, the Worcestershire COVID Management Service, and on-site at her practice.

She continued to work as a GP at Hollyoaks Medical Centre in Birmingham until 2022, ceasing clinical work in April 2022 and relinquishing her licence to practise in August 2022.

Dr Benn said that since 2022 she has devoted the majority of her time to environmental activism and voluntary work.

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