Cheshire medic billed dead neighbours' estate for informal advice

Stephen Bentley Image copyright Cavendish Press
Image caption Stephen Bentley agreed to withdraw the bill and apologise for his insensitivity

A senior hospital doctor billed relatives of a dead couple for informal medical advice, a tribunal heard.

Consultant physician Stephen Bentley submitted an invoice for 68 "consultations" to the probate lawyer of neighbours Harry and Joan Sutcliffe.

Mr Bentley, 75, was a friend of cattle farmer Mr Sutcliffe, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service heard.

It cleared him of professional misconduct, describing what happened as a "one-off incident of poor judgement".

The tribunal was told he sent an insensitive covering letter for the bill, writing: "I have never charged them for professional services provided. More fool me you might say."

'Insensitive and ill timed'

Mr Bentley, who has worked for the NHS and in private practice, was a longstanding friend of Mr and Mrs Sutcliffe, from the village of Antrobus, near Warrington, Cheshire.

The hearing was told he would watch Manchester United matches at the couple's farm.

Over a period of about 30 years, Mr Bentley gave them medical help from time to time, and, in return, he was paid by Mr Sutcliffe in prime cuts of beef, the tribunal heard.

He fell out with their family after the deaths of Mr Sutcliffe, aged 90, in January 2016 and Mrs Sutcliffe, aged 84, in November 2017 and sent the offending invoice five days after her death.

The now-retired doctor later agreed to withdraw the bill and apologise for his insensitivity.

Panel chairman Laura Paul said Mr Bentley's invoice was "insensitive and ill timed" but that his long career was "previously unblemished".

Mr Sutcliffe's daughter Margaret told the hearing: "My thoughts about the invoice weren't about the money. It was the hurt from somebody who knew my father, someone my father looked up to, and someone we held in the highest esteem."

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