Body Is Found In Search For High-Flier Driven To Despair

A major search-and-rescue operation was called off last night after police hunting for a missing Royal Navy doctor discovered a body. Dr David Hughes, 37, was said to be depressed and had been recently told he was to be deployed on a second tour of duty to Iraq next January.

The Surgeon Lieutenant-Commander was on a placement at St John’s Hospital in Livingston, West Lothian, and was under stress from working up to 85 hours a week, it is claimed.

He had disappeared following a night shift last week.

Police and RAF rescue teams started scouring the southern Cairngorms after his car was recovered last night at a remote beauty spot near Braemar.

But about eight hours after his wife made an emotional plea for Dr Hughes to return, a body was found in a tent about five miles from his silver Ford Mondeo.

Sergeant Andrew Todd, Grampian Police’s mountain-rescue co-ordinator, said: “It would appear to be a sad end to our search.”

Dr Hughes’ family was said to be “devastated at this turn of events”.

The father of three had been working towards becoming a consultant at the end of the year.

Speaking before last night’s discovery, Joanne Hughes made an emotional public appeal. She said: “I just want to know that you are safe.”

Mrs Hughes recalled the last telephone call she received from her husband, exactly a week ago. She had just seen her two eldest children off to school and was waiting anxiously at home with Ben, two, for her husband, who was late returning from his night shift working as an anaesthetist.

At about 10:30am, Dr Hughes phoned his wife on her mobile but she could hardly make out a word because the reception was poor. She immediately phoned him back but, by the end of the brief call, she knew something was very wrong.

Mrs Hughes said: “I could hear the wind on his mobile and asked him where he was. He wouldn’t tell me but did say, ‘I’m walking in the hills. I’m just going for a walk to clear my head’.

“I said to him, ‘But you’ve been working all night, you’ve not eaten anything, you need to come home and get something to eat and get some rest’. He replied, ‘No, I’m fine, I’m just having a walk. I’ll see you later on’.”

That afternoon, at about 2:45pm, Dr Hughes sent his wife a text which read: “I’m just going to stay out. I’ve got a tent. Give the children a kiss and a big hug from me.” That was the last she heard from him.

The search was launched yesterday after police officers found Dr Hughes’ vehicle by Linn of Quoich, Braemar, at about 5pm. The discovery followed a request by Lothian and Borders Police to all Scottish forces to check car parks near mountain climbing areas.

A body was discovered on a hillside two miles away from well-used routes at 7:30pm.

Formal identification is expected to take place today.

A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police said: “Further examination and tests need to be done before we can formally identify the person found dead this evening.

“Tragically, with the discovery of David Hughes’ car nearby, we believe it is likely to be him.

“There are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the discovery of the body.”

The night before her husband disappeared, his wife had called him at the hospital but he was dealing with patients and had little time to stop. He told her: “Oh God, it’s really busy. I’ll see you in the morning.”

As the hours began to pass with no further contact from him, Mrs Hughes, 33, frantically contacted family and friends, but to no avail.

She and Dr Hughes’ family contacted the police the following day. Dr Hughes’ brother, Matt Hughes, 44, said he had sent him a long text last Wednesday morning and got a reply at about 9:30am. It read: “Just had a shift from hell. I’m pretty f***** off with the world. Love Dave.”

Mr Hughes said: “I was extremely worried at that point and tried to call him. The alarm bells were ringing.”

Last night, health chiefs disputed Mrs Hughes’ claim about the number of hours her husband worked at St John’s.

Speaking before the discovery of the body, Jim McCaffery, director of human resources at NHS Lothian, said: “Dr Hughes was part of a junior doctor rota that was recently monitored as being 48 hours a week, in line with the European working-time directive and the New Deal for doctors.

“We share the family’s concerns about Dr Hughes’ safety and hope he can get in touch with us in the near future.”

Mrs Hughes yesterday said her husband desperately wanted to spend more time with his family but also to have a bit of spare time to himself to unwind from his hectic job. He had told her that all he wanted to do was go out on his bike for a cycle but that would mean less time with her and the children.

She said: “When he got home from work, our two-year-old would be in bed and our other children on their way. He never had time to do anything for himself.”

Mrs Hughes described her husband as a very private person who had never discussed his heavy workload with his employers. She added: “He had worked the last weekend, was due to work this weekend and the next – where does the life fit in there? There was nothing I could do, I couldn’t make more time appear from nowhere.

“He wasn’t looking forward to going back to Iraq, but only from the point of view of leaving his family. But he knew it was something he had to do as a doctor. I’m sure there was stress for everyone there.”

At a police conference yesterday, Mrs Hughes, accompanied by two of her husband’s brothers, including his twin, Mike, made an emotional appeal to her husband.

After completing his medical training at Dundee University six years ago, Dr Hughes joined the navy as a medic.

The couple, who are from Newton Abbot in Devon, moved to Scotland four years ago. The family home is in Edinburgh.

In 2003, Dr Hughes was sent to the Gulf, where he worked aboard the hospital ship RFA Argus. The family spent last year in New Zealand, where Dr Hughes worked with the Flying Doctor Service, before returning to Edinburgh in February.

David Bolton, of the University Hospitals Division of NHS Lothian, said: ” Our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence was last night unable to provide details of the support given to service personnel working in NHS hospitals.

The spokesman said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Commander David Hughes at this difficult time. It would be inappropriate to comment as the matter which is being dealt with by Lothian and Borders Police.”


WHILE the family of David Hughes raised concerns about the heavy workload in the NHS, statistics suggest the problem is not widespread.

The British Medical Association (BMA) in Scotland said its most recent figures showed 97.2 per cent of junior doctors were working within the legal 56-hour-a-week limit.

From 2009, junior doctors will be allowed to work a maximum of only 48 hours per week as the European Working Time directive is phased in. The directive has applied to NHS consultants and career-grade staff since October 1998. Junior doctors were initially exempt due to fears the system would not cope with the loss of capacity in such roles over a short period.

Writing in the BMA journal this month, Dr Yasmin Ahmed-Little said many of her junior doctor colleagues were working seven consecutive 13-hour shifts, causing extreme tiredness and an acknowledgement they were not performing at their best.

Dr Ahmed-Little wrote: “The Royal College of Physicians suggests limiting consecutive night shifts to a maximum of four and reducing the duration of shifts to decrease the risk to patients and staff.

“Single night shifts are safest, but more doctors would be required to support such rotas, which is unlikely to be affordable. Shift working is likely to increase further as junior doctors’ working hours are reduced to a maximum of 48 hours per week by 2009.”

Meanwhile, a recent report by the BMA on the effects of sleep deprivation on junior doctors said: “Lack of sleep needs to stop being regarded as a badge of honour and seen for the serious hazard that it actually is.”

A National Audit Office survey found consultants worked an average of 50.2 to 50.6 hours a week after a controversial pay-and-hours deal hammered out in 2003.