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Out-of-hours Croydon GP took 'hours to answer urgent calls'

A stethoscope
Image caption Dr Ravi Sondhi answered out-of-hours calls from his home in Norfolk

An out-of-hours GP for south London took up to three hours to respond to "urgent calls", a report has found.

NHS South West London's report accused Dr Ravi Sondhi, who was responsible for patients in Croydon, Merton, Sutton and Kingston, of "serious failings".

He answered out-of-hours calls from his Norfolk home and "claimed payment" for work he did not do, the NHS trust said.

The doctor provided the service through Croydoc - a firm he headed. The GMC said he was suspended in January 2010.

He was suspended from practising by the General Medical Council last year following an interim order by the regulator. The incidents mentioned in the reports, released on Wednesday, took place in 2009.

A spokeswoman for NHS South West London said: "We are currently exploring any legal options to pursue Dr Sondhi."

Malcolm Wicks, Labour MP for Croydon North, called for a police inquiry into the "shoddy saga of Croydoc".

The BBC has been unable to contact Dr Sondhi and Croydoc with regards to the NHS trust's report. The trust said Croydoc no longer exists.

'Shocking failings'

Dr Sondhi, who had his own practice in Croydon and has been declared bankrupt, was at one time the chairman, medical director, operations director and financial director of the company, the report found.

The report said he "repeatedly failed to answer telephone calls when he was on call" and on one occasion "114 calls were logged to his phone overnight".

He took between one-and-half hours to three hours to respond to urgent calls, the standard target for which was 20 minutes, and failed to record his actions following calls, with "more than 250 unresulted calls listed".

The report said the GP also "repeatedly cancelled his shifts without warning" and withdrew £100,000 from Croydoc, which cared for one million patients, without authority.

He also took "substantial sums" of money from staff at his practice, who thought he was investing it for them, the report found.

The report said Croydoc failed to take action and the commissioning primary care trusts failed to monitor its service properly.

'Misplaced loyalty'

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

Dr Dave Finch, joint medical director of 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.

"There is now a new organisation called Patient Care 24 providing out-of-hours services. We are confident that this organisation is providing a safe and effective service to patients.

"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.

"What Dr Sondhi did was wrong and local GPs and the NHS are very angry and shocked about the findings of this report."

The Croydon North MP said: "It shows how one GP seized the chance, through the privatisation of an essential health service, to run things not in the interest of patients, but for personal gain.

"The impact on some patients must have been at best stressful, at worst terrifying and dangerous."

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