British doctor suspended over involvement in Just Stop Oil protests

A doctor has been suspended from practising for five months after she repeatedly participated in protests demanding climate action.

Dr Sarah Benn, formerly a GP in Birmingham, who has been arrested and jailed after taking part in demonstrations, was suspended by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) on Tuesday.

The MPTS said her fitness to practise as a doctor had been impaired because of her misconduct.

Dr Benn, an NHS doctor for more than 30 years, had already stopped practising in 2022, but she said that as a doctor, she had a moral duty to take action to protect life and health.

“How could my patients trust me again, if I didn’t take action to confront the greatest health crisis we face?” Dr Benn said.

She took part in three protests at the oil terminal in Kingsbury, north Warwickshire, in 2022.

She had admitted she was in breach of an interim injunction by attending the demonstrations and that this amounted to contempt of court.

After the hearing Dr Latifa Patel, the BMA’s representative body chairwoman and workforce lead, said the ruling sends “a worrying message” to other doctors, including many who are also concerned about the climate crisis.

“Dr Benn’s actions and her resulting custodial sentence posed no threat to patients, but her suspension implies they do.

“It is now time for the GMC (General Medical Council) and the medical profession to review the basis on which Dr Benn found herself in front of a medical tribunal.”

The MPTS operates separately from the General Medical Council (GMC).

It runs hearings on cases where the GMC is concerned that patient safety, or the public’s confidence in doctors, may be at risk. MPTS tribunals can put conditions on a doctor’s practice, or stop them from working in the UK.

The GMC said Dr Benn had a right to express her personal opinions but she was referred for a misconduct hearing for multiple breaches of a court order which resulted in a custodial sentence.

“Our fitness to practise investigations consider cases which are referred to us and where doctors have broken the law, not their motivations for doing so,” a spokesperson said.

“It is not the role of regulators to determine UK law, that is a matter for Parliament.”

Earlier the tribunal had said the suspension was a response to Dr Benn’s misconduct and the impairment of her fitness to practise arising out of her repeatedly acting outside of the law.

“It was of the view that this (suspension) would appropriately and proportionately mark the seriousness with which the tribunal viewed Dr Benn’s misconduct, as well as sending out a signal to the profession and public about what is regarded as behaviour unbefitting a registered doctor”.

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

Dr Sarah Benn

No issues in respect of Dr Benn’s clinical work were raised at the misconduct hearing.

Dr Benn admitted to the tribunal to taking part in a protest by spreading out and sitting down across the road, obstructing access to, and egress from, the terminal on 26 April. She then spent eight days in custody on remand.

She also admitted attending other protests where she held a banner within a prohibited buffer zone at the side of the entrance to the terminal and a sit-down protest which blocked vehicles trying to get in and out of the terminal and then receiving a sentence of 32 days imprisonment.

In her tribunal statement, Dr Benn made it clear she did not dispute the facts and that she wanted to protest in a way that was likely to make an impact.

She said: “The purpose on every occasion was to cause disruption sufficient to place pressure on our government and institutions to take meaningful action to address the climate crisis.

“The design always avoided risk of harm to any person impacted, although people were subjected to inconvenience, which I did not enjoy.”

She also said she was backing demands made by Extinction Rebellion to try to tackle the climate emergency.

Dr Benn qualified in 1990 from Leicester University Medical School and spent 32 years as a GP, including work in inner city Birmingham. She has also been a GP trainer and undergraduate tutor.

She worked remotely for NHS 111 during the pandemic, for the Worcestershire Covid Management Service, and on site at her practice.