A Solihull doctor who admitted signing off death certificates without following proper procedures is being investigated by a medical watchdog, but has been allowed back to work after a suspension.
Dr Martin Sandler was fined £1,500 after he admitted six counts of signing a false certificate to procure cremation while employed by Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust.
The General Medical Consultant at Solihull Hospital has become the first doctor in England to be prosecuted in such circumstances under the Cremation Act 1902 and is currently subject to an investigation by the General Medical Council.
Following the Harold Shipman murders, NHS procedures were tightened to ensure every death certificate was signed by both a doctor who had treated the deceased, as well as a colleague who had seen the body and interviewed the doctor involved in treatment or family members.
Solihull Magistrates Court heard that in signing the certificates, for which he was paid £70 each, Sandler was wrongfully claiming he had followed the guidelines.
The deceased, whose names have not been released, were therefore cremated without their cause of death being properly confirmed.
A charge relating to 111 similar offences dating back to 2005 was dropped.
Sandlers’ defence counsel told the court his actions had been “reckless rather than deliberate” and had not been financially motivated.
Sandler, of The Crescent, Hampton-in-Arden, was ordered to pay a £1,500 fine, £165 costs and £15 victim surcharge. While the investigation is under way the 48-year-old is banned from signing any cremation forms or undertaking any private practice.
A spokesman for the GMC confirmed Sandler was initially suspended on December 18, 2009.
An interim orders panel met again on June 14 this year, when his licence was reinstated with conditions.
He said: “There are ten conditions on the licence which are due to remain in place until June 2011.
“The case will be reviewed and there may or may not be a fitness to practise hearing.”
A Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust spokeswoman said: “Following an internal investigation into a potential discrepancy in administrative procedures around the completion of death certification forms at Solihull Hospital by one doctor, the Trust referred the details to the police. We can confirm that a disciplinary hearing was held in December 2008 in relation to this issue with Dr Martin Sandler.
“Dr Sandler admitted that he had failed to see the bodies of some patients for whom he completed Form C of the cremation form in 2008 and as a result he received a final written warning and the imposed condition that he not sign any further cremation forms.
“In addition, he has discontinued his role as Clinical Director.
“Dr Sandler has already been disciplined by the trust for this administrative breach and is unable to carry out this specific administration task in the future. There has never been any question relating to Dr Sandler’s medical practice or capability. He remains a member of the Trust team and continues to be employed as a General Medical Consultant.”