A CONSULTANT physician with an ‘unblemished career’ sent a bill to the family of his dead neighbours for medical care he had given them.

Doctor Stephen Bentley appeared before a medical tribunal this week after being reported to the General Medical Council accused of dishonest conduct.

Bentley, who worked at Warrington Hospital for 30 years, sent an ‘insensitive and ill-timed’ invoice for 68 consultations to the family lawyer of Harry and Joan Sutcliffe shortly after they died.

The 75-year-old accompanied the invoice with a cover letter stating ‘I have never charged them for professional services provided. More fool me you might say’.

The tribunal heard how Bentley gave a ‘significant amount’ of medical care to his elderly neighbours – who were his good friends - and would issue repeat prescriptions.

Margaret Sutcliffe, Mr Sutcliffe’s daughter and Mrs Sutcliffe’s stepdaughter, told the panel how her family would return the favours by giving Bentley prime cuts of meat and letting him watch football on their Sky TV.

However, the panel accepted that there were also social interactions and visits, not of a medical nature.

Given that there were allegedly 200 visits in total, the tribunal determined that 68 of these could reasonably have been medical.

It also noted that some of the text messages sent to Dr Bentley were medical in nature including ‘Dear Dr Bentley my father had a fall on the stairs on Wednesday. Please could he have some more of the pain killers – like the packet that you gave him’.

Panel chairman Laura Paul said: “Dr Bentley had previously charged for medical services under Mr Sutcliffe’s private insurance in 1999 and 2002.

"The services he was charging for in the invoice were in relation to medical care from 2011 until 2015, but he had not previously raised an invoice for those professional services.

"There is no persuasive evidence to show that Dr Bentley was being dishonest.”

In a statement provided at the tribunal, Bentley said “I accept that I did not make records on each occasion that I attended.

"I have no excuse for this other than familiarity with his case and the fact that after talking to Mr Sutcliffe and clinically examining him, many of my numerous visits turned into providing simple reassurance and it became apparent that anxiety and emotional anger were invariably the cause of his presentation.

"When I was attending to provide a repeat prescription, the prescription was always typed and signed at my home and taken around.

"On the occasions that I attended when a referral or update to the general practitioner was required, I did make records and typed letters myself.”

The panel cleared Bentley of serious professional misconduct after he agreed to withdraw the invoice and apologised.

Laura Paul added: “Doctor Bentley’s misconduct was a one-off incident in a previously long and unblemished career.

“He has expressed genuine and heartfelt remorse and had apologised.

“Dr Bentley has withdrawn from clinical practice, withdrawn the invoice and is no longer seeking payment.”

Doctor Bentley qualified in 1970 and at Warrington Hospital from 1982 until he retired in April 2012.

Following this, he undertook various locum posts and private work at Spire Cheshire Hospital.

He finished all clinical practice in August.