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NHS GP working on frontline during pandemic was refused exemption from jury duty

AN NHS GP who has been working on the frontline during the pandemic was refused exemption from jury duty at the height of the Omicron outbreak.

Dr Mike Smith has worked over 45 hours per-week over five days throughout the Covid pandemic.

The 45-year-old doctor had previously deferred being called up for jury duty in June due to the vaccine roll out but was given a new date for January 2022.

Mike Smith, GP
Dr Mike Smith, GP, 45.

He immediately contacted the courts after Boris Johnson announced a faster booster roll out last Sunday to deal with the Omicron variant.

But, after contacting them on Monday explaining he is still on the frontline and citing the acceleration of the vaccine roll out, he had his excuse rejected.

Dr Smith was told he had no option but to attend the jury in the middle of January and that he was not able to be deterred for a second time.

Short on staff already due to self isolation, Dr Smith was worried that he would have to close his practice in Knebworth, Hertfordshire, to spend time on jury duty.

However, after posting on social media about the initial rejection, the Jury Central Summoning Bureau yesterday finally allowed Dr Smith his exemption.

Emails show the NHS doctor’s plea for exemption being denied by what he described a “very routine, cookie cutter response”.

The last email shows the body’s U-turn on their decision, however they add that he may be called up at a later date.

While asking for an exemption, Dr Smith emailed the Jury Summoning Bureau on Monday, writing: “I am a front line general practitioner in the National Health Service.

“When I deferred this jury service I honestly expected the global pandemic to have quietened down considerably.

“In actual fact it has got a lot worse and work has never been busier.

“The recent announcement by the Prime Minister for GP practices to accelerate the vaccine program, as well as support routine work wherever possible (cancer diagnosis, heart disease, and other chronic disease).

“I now wonder if I should defer my jury service further. Until things settle down. I did jury service two and 1/2 years ago so I am totally accepting of my civic duty, but honestly think with the staffing shortage, the increased workload and of course my clinical responsibilities it would not be the best use of my time at the moment.”

On the same day, they responded: “Your record shows you have previously deferred, therefore we would be unable to offer you a second deferral as our offices don’t authorise second deferrals.

“Should you request to be deferred again your request would ultimately be refused and you would be required to attend the given date or go through the appeal process.

“Alternatively, you may request to be excused.”

Mike Smith at work
Dr Mike Smith at work during the pandemic.

The GP then replied: “I think given the circumstances that I have no choice other than request to be excused.

“When I originally deferred the date, it was because as we seemed to be coming out of the COVID pandemic, I genuinely believed that it may be possible to participate, as I did three years ago, in jury service.

“As you may have seen from the news, the Prime Minister has called upon all front-line workers to vaccinate the nation over the coming weeks, as well as keep up with unprecedented demand on the NHS.

“I believe that taking me away from the practice for two weeks, given the pandemic, the appalling staffing situation of the NHS and the unprecedented demand on the health service would cause significant problems and could even lead to patient harm or death.

“I am hoping that the JCSB is reasonable in considering this request.”

On Tuesday, the Summoning Bureau responded, writing: “Thank you for contacting the Jury Central Summoning Bureau.

“Your request to be excused from jury service has been refused.

“You have the option to bring your jury service forward to undertake it before 17.01.2022.

“If you would like to bring your jury service forward, please provide us with the dates you will be available.

“You will not need to go through the appeal process if you can provide an earlier date.

“You are also entitled to appeal against the decision.”

But in a U-turn last night HM Courts & Tribunals Service emailed Dr Smith, writing: “You were due to start jury service soon but you have now been excused.

“You do not need to attend court for jury service this time or take any further action.

“You may be asked to do jury service again in the future.”

Dr Smith posted about the initial refusal to be exempt on Twitter on Wednesday, writing: “Just had my request to defer Jury service in January denied.

“Apparently being a GP in a global pandemic during a workforce crisis with unprecedented demand doesn’t require me at work.

“Wow.”

The post received over 44,000 likes and over 6,000 retweets.

People were astonished by the initial decision to deny the GP from jury service.

Sharon Fry said: “It’s a joke.

“Last year on mine a guy became so distressed he had lost work, had to pay extra childcare and various other things, he could not cope.

“He drove big lorries for a living on long shifts.

“I prayed he didn’t get called out to go on a trial, he was so stressed.”

Hannah McKee said: “Had my request to be excused refused too.

“I mentioned the words ‘frontline’ ’emergency medicine’ ‘potentially detrimental to patient care’.

“Computer said no.”

Hollie Stafford added: “That’s bad.

“I’ve managed to defer twice now.

“I would actually quite like to do it one day when I can.”

Clive Husselburry said: “There should be a blanket exemption for all Health Care Professionals.”

HM Courts and Tribunals Service responded to the post on Twitter yesterday, writing “We’re very sorry for any confusion related to your application to change the date or be excused from your jury service.

“We understand you received official confirmation earlier today that your request to be excused has now been granted.

“The Jury Central Summoning Bureau (JCSB) responds to requests to change the date or be excused sympathetically, including those from NHS staff and healthcare workers.

“We’ve reminded our team of this given increasing pressures on the NHS.”

Speaking today, Dr Smith said: “It seemed daft in an under-resourced, understaffed NHS for me to be away from work for two weeks or even longer depending on the case.

“I have been a doctor for 22 years and I have never felt anything like this.

“I have this sick feeling in my stomach every morning before I go to work.

“I really don’t know where we will get the mental strength to go through another cycle like the one we experienced last year.

“Of course we will, I am sure of that.”

He added: “It’s of course a massive relief that I am not going to be taken out of clinical duties for at least a fortnight.

“I am also relieved that they have told me they are going to instruct their staff to be more sympathetic to essential workers and NHS staff during the global pandemic.

“I’m pleased with this result.

Knebsworth surgery
Knebworth Surgery in Hertfordshire where Dr Mike Smith works.

“However I think this whole issue has highlighted perhaps the approach to jury service and the various criteria of exclusion and inclusion possibly need a review.”

Jury service usually lasts up to 10 working days but if the trial is shorter than 10 days individuals could be asked to be a juror on other trials.

There is around a 35% chance that people in England and Wales will be summoned for jury duty in their lifetime, while in Scotland the percentage chance is much higher.

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