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Editor’s blog Wednesday 11 August 2010: Dr Shirine Boardman looking good; South Warwickshire Hospital Trust looking very bad

The General Medical Council (GMC) has cleared sacked diabetes consultant Dr Shirine Boardman of any wrong-doing – two years after South Warwickshire Hospital NHS Trust sacked her in July 2008.

Dr Boardman did not transfer medical records to any external organisation, as South Warwickshire Hospital Trust claimed. There was no breach of patient confidentiality, no involvement whatsoever of any “company”, and Dr Boardman did not break any NHS rules.

Dr Boardman faxed a list of names and contact details of diabetes patients to her NHS secretary at the NHS clinic called Apnee Sehat.  No medical details were included with the list.

The Apnee Sehat clinic was a pilot clinical service provided by Warwickshire Primary Care Trust.  It was not an “external organisation” as the hospital claimed.  It was not a private or “public benefit” company and Dr Boardman was not a director.

She gave the list to her medical secretary (who was subject to all NHS rules on confidentiality) so that these patients could be invited to take part in a special education programme designed to help them manage their diabetes and prevent serious complications such as heart attacks, strokes,  kidney disease and blindness.

Dr Boardman was acting in accordance with official NHS and National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidance, which both recommend this sort of patient education as essential healthcare.  There was a statutory duty on all NHS bodies, including Warwick Hospital, to provide this healthcare education for their diabetes patients, but the hospital failed to do so.

South Warwickshire NHS Hospital Trust complained that Dr Boardman had ignored “explicit, repeated and consistent advice” not to share information with Apnee Sehat.  But the GMC now admits that she “complied with all the conditions set out by the Trust”.

“Dr Boardman’s motives seem to have been solely to benefit patients”, they added.

Many of the country’s most senior experts have been horrified by the action taken against Dr Boardman, among them Peter Bottomley, a senior backbench Conservative MP.  Dr Boardman has recently been working at a hospital in his constituency. He has been following the case closely, and raised it in Parliament. He said: “This project should have been helped, not hindered. The individuals who were behind the complaint should now be questioned, and if judged appropriate, they and their Trust asked to account for their actions.

“Otherwise the Health Secretary should ask for a review of their actions”.

Lord Crisp, as Sir Nigel Crisp, was the NHS chief executive and Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health when the first, voluntary Apnee Sehat project started some years previously. He said, "I was very impressed by the work Dr. Boardman did in creating Apnee Sehat. It was just the kind of thing that we wanted to see in the NHS and I was shocked that the Trust allowed this to develop to the point where they dismissed a forward thinking and committed Consultant who was clearly making a difference for patients locally".

Dr Sue Roberts CBE was the government’s leading expert in diabetes – the tsar – at the time the Apnee Sehat clinic was operating.  She said, “As the National Clinical Director for Diabetes at the time this took place, I would have expected the clinical and managerial staff of South Warwickshire NHS Trust to have welcomed the chance for their patients to be offered an opportunity to attend the course provided by the Apnee Sehat clinic.

“The dismissal of Dr Boardman was fundamentally unreasonable in that it disregarded good medical practice in the treatment of diabetes”.

Dr Boardman is relieved by the GMC decision.  She said, “I am thankful this nightmare is finally behind me and my innocence has been proven.

“It came as a complete shock when my efforts to provide culturally appropriate patient education in the community was seen as gross misconduct and led to my dismissal.

“I can now continue with my career with my credibility intact, and would like to thank everyone who has believed in my innocence and supported me through this terrible period of my life”.

Dr. Boardman had previously been awarded four clinical excellence awards by the Trust for going above and beyond her contractual duties to help patients. She has continued working since her dismissal from Warwick as a consultant physician in other hospitals.