A GP caught drinking at work has been suspended for three months.
Dr Catherine Aspinall was working at Westway Medical Center in Maghull, near Liverpool, in February 2022 when a patient raised the alarm about her behaviour.
Clinic staff then found Dr. Aspinall reeking of alcohol and so drunk she couldn’t even stand or have a coherent conversation.
Another doctor reportedly found an empty wine bottle on his desk, according to the Liverpool Echowho said she had been caught slurring her words and repeating herself.
Dr Aspinall, 38, admitted to co-workers that he had “had a few sips” that morning.
Dr Catherine Aspinall now faces a suspension for an incident in February 2022 when she treated intoxicated patients.
Dr Aspinall was working at Westway Medical Center in Maghull, near Liverpool, at the time of the incident and was found by other staff to be so drunk she could not stand or carry on a coherent conversation.
Footage has emerged of Dr Aspinall enjoying a boozy night out drinking pints while wearing a medical gown in 2007 during her medical studies.
A hearing last week by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) heard how Dr Aspinall partly blamed stress due to her workload and working “long hours” for the incident.
But the Court also heard this was not the first time she had endangered the public by drinking inappropriately.
Dr Aspinall had previously received a behavioral warning from the medical regulator following a drink-driving conviction in 2016.
The Court noted that this was an episode “not unlike” “impulsive and extremely poor alcohol-related judgment that also put the public at risk.”
Dr Aspinall lost her job at the practice and was referred to the General Medical Council (GMC) over the 2022 incident.
At a hearing held by the MPTS, which rules on cases investigated by the GMC, Dr Aspinall admitted consuming alcohol at work and treating patients under the influence.
In a statement to the court, Dr Aspinall condemned her own behavior as “horrible” and “disgusting”, adding that she had abstained from alcohol since then.
While the Court noted that Dr Aspinall has worked as a locum GP without further problems since the incident, the “serious misconduct” still warranted a penalty.
“Dr. Aspinall’s misconduct involved her being significantly intoxicated during the course of a surgery,” they wrote.
“Their actions expose patients to potential risk of unjustified harm.”
The Court also considered Dr Aspinall’s previous conviction for drink driving and an apparent lack of knowledge of her behavior in that incident as an aggravating factor in the case.
While there had been no signs of repetition in her behavior since February last year, the Court added that the doctor had not yet been exposed to the busy work environment that had initially contributed to her drinking at work.
Dr Aspinall’s representative, who argued for a suspension of only one or two months, highlighted that losing her old job had already had “a serious impact on the family finances”.
But the Court, which could have issued a suspension of up to 12 months, ruled that three months was the most “appropriate and proportionate” sanction.
They argued that this would address the seriousness of the misconduct and remind Dr Aspinall and other doctors of the standards they are expected to uphold.
You have 28 days to appeal the Court’s ruling and if you do so, you will be able to practice without restrictions during that process.
A group of Dr Aspinall’s patients, who say they have benefited from her “dedicated care and expertise”, have already launched a petition in support of the GP.
Although not seeking to overturn the Court’s ruling, the petition’s author, Maghull resident Suzanne Gordon, urged the medical regulator to take a more compassionate approach in such cases.
“We believe that a supportive rather than punitive approach should be taken to allegations of being under the influence of alcohol when caring for patients,” he wrote.
“We want to address cases where GPs are accused of being under the influence of alcohol while carrying out their duties.”
While Gordon acknowledged that patient safety was the top priority, he said sanctions could deter doctors from seeking help for alcohol abuse.
“It is critical for us, as a society, to recognize that stress can significantly contribute to lapses in judgment or coping mechanisms among healthcare professionals,” he wrote.
‘We firmly believe that taking a supportive approach to doctors facing allegations of misconduct related to alcohol use will produce better outcomes for both medical professionals and their patients.
“Rather than focusing solely on punitive measures that may exacerbate existing stress levels or discourage physicians from seeking help when they need it, we propose implementing programs aimed at addressing mental health issues within the medical community.”
So far, fifty people have signed the petition.
Dr Aspinall has been contacted for comment.
DO YOU DRINK TOO MUCH ALCOHOL? THE 10 QUESTIONS THAT REVEAL YOUR RISK
A screening tool widely used by medical professionals is the AUDIT (Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Testing). Developed in collaboration with the World Health Organization, the 10-question test is considered the gold standard to help determine if someone has alcohol abuse problems.
The test has been reproduced here with permission from the WHO.
To complete it, answer each question and write down the corresponding score.
0-7: You are within the range of reasonable alcohol consumption and are at low risk for alcohol-related problems.
Over 8: Indicates harmful or dangerous consumption.
8-15: Medium risk level. Drinking at your current level puts you at risk of developing problems with your health and your life in general, such as work and relationships. Consider cutting back (see tips below).
16-19: Increased risk of complications from alcohol. Cutting back on your own may be difficult at this level as you may be dependent, so you may need professional help from your GP and/or a counsellor.
20 and over: Possible dependency. Your alcohol consumption is already causing you problems and it is very possible that you are dependent. You should definitely consider stopping drinking gradually or at least reducing your alcohol consumption. You should seek professional help to determine the level of your dependence and the safest way to quit alcohol.
Severe dependence may require medically assisted withdrawal or detoxification in a hospital or specialized clinic. This is due to the likelihood of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms occurring in the first 48 hours requiring specialized treatment.