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Consultant struck off for actively ending patient's life
A hospital consultant investigated over the deaths of dozens of patients was struck off the medical register yesterday for taking "active measures" to end the life of a patient against his family's wishes.

Dr Ann David, an anaesthetist, took Robert Symons off a life-support system hours after his wife and son expressed "strong opposition" to treatment being withdrawn, the General Medical Council ruled.

Dr Ann David
Dr Ann David: ‘disillusioned’

It also found that she had not explored all options before taking "active measures" to "prematurely" end Mr Symon's life.

Dr David, 47, from Rayleigh in Essex, was not present having declined to take further part in the 10-day hearing after the panel refused to let her voluntarily erase herself from the medical register which would have brought the hearing to a close before findings were announced.

She has previously faced a police investigation over Mr Symons's death and that of 40 of other patients at Basildon Hospital in Essex between 1997 and 1999.

However the cases were dropped in December 2001 after the Crown Prosecution Service advised that there was "insufficient evidence" to proceed.

A spokesman for Essex Police said yesterday that the force had been in touch with Basildon and Thurrock NHS Trust and would be considering the "relevance" of the GMC's decision to any further police action.

Mr Symons, 60, was admitted to intensive care at Basildon hospital on Jan 22, 1999, suffering from septicaemia and his condition quickly deteriorated.

On Feb 16 Dr David formed the view that he should be taken off a ventilator because he had no chance of survival, but his wife Edna, now 66, and son Gary said they were "strongly opposed", the panel heard.

Hours later, however, Dr David gave Mr Symons, a milkman from Basildon, a high dose of sedatives and had him taken off the machine, a decision the panel ruled was "clinically unjustified". He died within 20 minutes.

Prof Michael Whitehouse, the chairman of the fitness to practise panel, said: "It is imperative that a doctor differentiates between actively ending the patient's life - an unlawful act - and letting a patient die without distress.

The panel recognises that even if all possible steps had been taken this patient may still have died. However he had an undeniable right to all reasonable treatments before the decision to withdraw treatment was made." He added: "The patient was not in imminent danger of dying, and was recorded as being conscious and orientated."

Dr David told the hearing last week that she was "disillusioned by everything that had happened" and planned to become a maths teacher.

Mr Symons's widow said yesterday: "I feel justice has been done and I think she has got what she deserved."

She said of her husband's treatment: "Everything went wrong that could go wrong. He was only in there for a few weeks but during that time he caught pneumonia, MRSA and was covered in bed sores.

"Just before his death he said to me 'Edna I will never trust another doctor'. I said 'don't worry I will sort it out' that was my promise and I wanted to keep it." She described how she and her son had pleaded with Dr David not to turn off her husband's ventilator.

"She said she didn't need permission. She went into another room and did it." Dr David was suspended on June 30, 2000, after colleagues first raised concerns over her work practices. She never worked at the hospital again but continued to collect her £90,000-a-year salary for five years.

She resigned earlier this month after the conclusion of a panel of inquiry commissioned by the hospital trust which criticised the care given by her in the cases to two patients.

By Caroline Davies