A leading gynaecologist who went on the BBC’s Today programme to accuse the NHS of ‘lethal failings’ over her working conditions has avoided being struck off the medical register, after she was caught moonlighting at three private hospitals whilst on paid sick leave.
Dr Shree Datta, 42, told her employers she was unfit for work after having surgery.
Despite continuing to pocket a taxpayer funded salary, she secretly earned thousands of extra pounds to carry out various surgical and obstetric procedures at a string of luxury clinics — including in a private wing within her own NHS hospital.
Over a five-month period in 2019, Datta, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist and former chair of the BMA’s Junior Doctors Committee, ignored warnings from a senior colleague not to undertake private work.
She carried out three caesarian deliveries, several biopsies and one hysterectomy during 99 days of private patient work at the Lister and Portland Hospitals in London and the Guthrie clinic in Kings College Hospital, a tribunal heard.
The General Medical Council had called for Datta to be struck off the medical register due to her ‘brazen and persistent’ dishonesty.
Datta also undertook procedures privately during a phased return to work, while simultaneously claiming she needed help to do the same work in her NHS practice.
Typically 30 minute private medical consultations in London can cost £280 with a caesarian delivery costing £6,040.
At the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, she admitted a string of misconduct charges and was suspended from medical practice for 12 months.
In January 2017, Datta went on Radio 4 to claim she was unable to complete up to a half of her operations because of underfunding and staff rota changes within the NHS.
She told then presenter Sarah Montague: ‘The biggest question I face on a Monday morning is whether I will be able to perform 50 or 25 per cent of my operations.
‘Repeatedly we are seeing patients who have been cancelled once or twice beforehand and I don’t think I am the only one who is facing these pressures.
‘What we are facing now is an increasing number of complaints from patients quite rightly that we are having to cancel their procedures and that there is an increase in their waiting time.
‘If you look at the funding and the changes in rotas for junior doctors, you’ve got a lethal combination.’
Datta, who worked for the NHS at Kings College Hospital, was reported to the General Medical Council after health bosses found out about her illicit sideline and fired her in December 2019 for gross misconduct.
The GMC called for her to be struck off the medical register over what it called ‘brazen and persistent’ dishonesty.
The Manchester hearing was told Datta had taken sick leave after undergoing surgery herself in January 2019 – but within days was undertaking private work at the three private hospitals, plus clinics at a GP practice and at The Medical Chambers.
In March 2019 she underwent a work assessment but NHS Occupational Health staff concluded she was still unfit to work.
Later during a ‘Return to Work Meeting and Work Plan Discussion’ with the Trust in July 2019, Datta falsely said on-call and obstetric work was ‘the most difficult’ and she ‘not been able to undertake this part of her role’ whilst she was seeing patients privately on the same day, the tribunal heard.
Mr Carl Horgan counsel for the GMC told the Manchester hearing: ‘This was a deliberate and conscious act which undermines Dr Datta’s assertions that such behaviour was out of character for her.
‘She chose to ignore the Trust’s sickness and absence policy and any claims that she did not know about, or even that there was, such a policy at the time, are not credible given her role and experience.
‘She chose to ignore the obvious fact that if she was signed off as unfit to work, she should not undertake any clinical practice without discussing with medical professionals and those that manage her clinical work.
‘It is therefore clear that this was not a spur of the moment decision but was a continued and repeated series of dishonest actions over an extended period of time, and that she chose to brazenly continue with her private work even when multiple opportunities arose for her to inform her employers.
‘Her misconduct was persistent, deliberate, repeated and consistently covered up.
‘She put her own needs before those of her patients at significant detriment to the reputation of the wider profession.’
Datta’s lawyer, Mr Marios Lambis QC, said his client posed no risk to patients and submitted 26 ‘glowing’ character references on her behalf.
He added: ‘The Tribunal should consider what a well informed observer may think.
‘They are decent, reasonable and fair, not a vindictive individual holding the Sword of Damocles over individuals that make a mistake.
‘Dr Datta’s evidence was open, consistent and at times against her own interests. She has been contrite, remorseful and had shown humility.’
He added: ‘This was a transparent act of dishonesty, self-destructive, lacking in sophistication and with a paper trail leading straight back to her. It is clear something was wrong and the Tribunal should consider Dr Datta’s work environment at the time.
She stated that after informing her surgeon, she wished to make a report regarding her care, she was told to “watch your private practice”.’
Datta told the hearing she had completed courses on probity, honesty, countering fraud within the NHS, and had helped give advice on ‘professionalism’ to student doctors.
She denied her motivation for moonlighting was financial and claimed her behaviour could have been different if she had had the benefit of a ‘more supportive and communicative colleague base’ at the Trust.
When asked why she was treating patients privately on days she was having Return to Work meetings she said: ‘I felt genuinely at the time that I could rationalise it. I don’t understand what was going through my head but I do have the insight now to understand my actions.
Suspending her MPTS chairman Melissa Coutino said: ‘The evidence clearly demonstrates that Dr Datta made a deliberate decision to continue with the private portion of her work starting within days of her surgery.
‘This decision was made in advance of that procedure and she made no provision for any colleague to cover her private patient responsibilities in her absence.
‘Dr Datta’s admitted dishonesty was a sustained course of action in which she logged approximately 100 private appointments, while on certified sick leave from her NHS post and omitted to inform or discuss this decision with her NHS employer.
‘Dr Datta put patients at risk of unwarranted harm by practising when she had been signed off as unfit to work and prioritised her own interests above those of patients.’
But she added: ‘The Tribunal noted the evidence of Dr Datta’s work beyond her clinical practice and found that the testimonials show her to be highly regarded and to have made a significant contribution in her field and to women’s health more generally.
‘The numerous testimonials about Dr Datta from people who have extensive experience of working with her, paint a picture of someone who is willing to give more time than she is paid for to professional and patient interests.
‘She was depicted as someone who gives priority to her work and her area of expertise and whose actions in being dishonest and potentially placing patients at harm were completely out of character.’