Out-of-hours GP failed to answer calls in London...as he was in Norfolk

A �230,000-a-year doctor running an out-of-hours GP service in south-west London failed to visit patients because he was staying 140 miles away in a �2.8 million Norfolk mansion.

Dr Ravi Sondhi, 51, regularly stayed at his home in the Fakenham area when he was supposed to be working on-call in south-west London, leaving nearly one million patients without cover at night and at weekends.

His many serious failings while head of the company Croydoc, which served patients in Croydon, Merton, Sutton and Kingston, are outlined in an NHS South-West London report.

The report states that Dr Sondhi, 'repeatedly failed to answer telephone calls when he was on call' and on one occasion '114 calls were logged to his phone overnight.'

The report cited among the company's failures the case of one patient who died after being kept waiting for 12 hours for treatment. Croydoc said it could not cope with demand when a complaint was made.

Rather than visiting patients face-to-face, Dr Sondhi would either divert their calls to a GP's practice to visit them the next morning, or call the London Ambulance Service.

He sometimes took up to three hours to respond to urgent calls. The standard target was 20 minutes.

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Dr Sondhi repeatedly cancelled his shifts without warning, withdrew more than �100,000 from Croydoc without authority and took 'substantial' sums of money from his own practice staff, who believed he was investing it on their behalf.

He was also said to behave in a 'racist, ageist, sexist, threatening and abusive' manner towards his staff.

Croydoc was an independent company managed by GPs and Dr Sondhi was at one time its chairman, medical director, operations director and financial director.

Croydoc has been shut down and replaced by out-of-hours service Patient Care 24.

Dr Sondhi has been declared bankrupt and has been suspended from practising on an interim order by the General Medical Council (GMC).

A hearing into his conduct is awaited and Malcolm Wicks, Labour MP for Croydon North, has called for a police inquiry.

The report finds that the Croydoc board failed to take action and the commissioning bodies (the Primary Care Trusts) failed satisfactorily to monitor the Croydoc contract. This is accepted by the NHS bodies, however, as soon as NHS Croydon became aware of the failings, both the chief executive of Croydoc and Dr Sondhi were suspended.

Dr Dave Finch, joint medical director, NHS South West London said: 'This report reveals a shocking series of failings by one GP who apparently managed to dupe his professional colleagues whilst letting down his patients and claimed payment for work he did not do.

'I want to reassure patients that this is about out-of-hours services that were provided in 2009. There is now a new organisation called PatientCare 24 providing out-of-hours services. We are confident that this organisation is providing a safe and effective service.

'The report's conclusion was that Croydoc was 'controlled by one doctor' and it is plain that the other board members, all GPs themselves, did not understand their governance responsibilities, possibly out of misplaced loyalty towards a colleague. It was only when the PCT became involved that prompt action was taken.'

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