Doctor who took action to protect her patients faces being struck-off

This week, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) will review the case of Dr. Sarah Benn, a 57-year-old former GP from Birmingham, to decide if she can maintain her licence to practise medicine. Dr. Benn, a Just Stop Oil supporter, faces this tribunal for her involvement in peaceful demonstrations demanding the government to bring an end to new fossil fuel projects. [1]

This tribunal, which is sitting from today and scheduled for the rest of the week, will focus on Dr. Benn’s conduct in relation to her arrest at Kingsbury oil terminal, where she took action holding a sign on a grass verge which read ‘no new oil’. She was subsequently found to be in breach of a civil injunction, a private law bought by fossil fuel corporations, and was imprisoned for 31 days for this action. Dr. Benn informed the General Medical Council and her employer after each arrest and argues that her actions are consistent with medical ethics, which prioritise patient and public safety above all. This comes in a year when three GPs are under scrutiny for similar reasons, with Dr. Benn’s case being the first heard.

Speaking before the commencement of these hearings, Dr. Benn expressed her motivations :

“As a doctor, my fundamental duty is to protect health and life. This includes proactive efforts to prevent disease and death. The climate crisis is the most significant existential threat to global health we have ever faced. It’s disheartening to see governments worldwide declare climate emergencies, yet fail to act beyond these declarations. In medicine, when an emergency is declared, immediate action is expected—not just words. This is the essence of our job, and it’s often a daunting responsibility, but it is essential.”

“This is why I felt compelled to address what I see as the most critical health crisis currently unfolding—one that is already causing widespread death, disease, and destruction globally and is set to worsen. We’re trained as doctors to intervene decisively to avert tragedy, therefore, this situation requires nothing less than decisive intervention.” 

“While initiatives like ‘greening the NHS’ are commendable and would have been a welcome start in the 1980s, today’s crisis demands more radical and immediate action. We are out of time, with only a narrow window remaining to prevent a total collapse of our systems.”

“The protests and disruptions I’ve participated in are not actions I take lightly. I find no joy in causing inconvenience or distress. However, we must be clear about the magnitude of the crisis we face. The disruptions caused by peaceful protest are nothing compared to the catastrophic impacts of continuing to burn fossil fuels.”

“I have been clear about my reasons for taking action from the very start. I will be sad and upset if I am removed from the register, but that will have no effect on my future plans. I will continue carrying out what I believe is my responsibility as long as the government refuses to commit to stopping oil and gas.”

The GMC’s Good Medical Practice guidelines emphasise a doctor’s duty to justify the public’s trust in the profession. Dr. Benn believes that her continued advocacy and willingness to highlight the critical role of health professionals in addressing the climate crisis are in line with these principles.

Recently UN special rapporteur on environmental defenders, Michel Forst, talked of his grave concern about the situation in the UK, and how such action against doctors might amount to ‘penalisation, persecution and harassment’. [2]

He added: “I am deeply troubled at the use of civil injunctions to ban protest in certain areas, including on public roadways. The repression that environmental activists who use peaceful civil disobedience are currently facing in Europe is a major threat to democracy and human rights.”


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Notes to Editors

[1] Just Stop Oil is a coalition of groups working together to demand that the government immediately halt all future licensing and consents for the exploration, development and production of fossil fuels in the UK. Just Stop Oil is a member of the A22 Network of civil resistance projects.

Just Stop Oil ‘Blue Lights’ policy: our policy is, and has always been, to move out of the way for emergency vehicles with siren sounding and ‘blue lights’ on.