A DOCTOR forged prescriptions and got the drugs for himself as he struggled to cope with the stress of work and problems in his personal life.

Graeme Little was left at breaking-point and bringing up his two young children alone after the "departure" of his wife, a court heard.

He was also under pressure as a GP at the Park Lane Surgery in Stillington, near Stockton, while the fraud went on between 2009 and last year.

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The crimes came to light when a pharmacist raised suspicions about the prescription for one patient - one of three whose names Little, 41, used.

Throughout the offending, Little wrote more than 400 false prescriptions, and deprived the NHS of £10,000, Teesside Crown Court heard, Prosecutor Philip Morley said the three patients were all entitled to free medication, and added: "The Crown say it was an abuse of trust and fraudulent.

“He made full admissions in his first interview to one weekly prescription, and interviewed later about two others he confirmed that he had been prescribing.”

Little walked free from court with a suspended sentence, and he may be allowed to work again - depending on a General Medical Council (GMC) ruling.

His lawyer, Nicci Horton, told Judge Howard Crowson: "He has received counselling treatment and medical treatment, and continues to be under the care of counselling.

"Primarily, his concern is that at some point he would like the ability to be able to practise again as a doctor. On behalf of Mr Little, I throw myself at your mercy.

"The GMC has stated that he would be able to practise again on limited restricted licence with supervision if he is to receive a sentence of less than six months.

"He was under an enormous amount of pressure on his own - until he remarried - as a single father of two young children. It is small wonder he found himself in, effectively, a mental breakdown."

The judge saw a bundle of glowing references from patients, and said it may have been the doctor's pride which prevented him from seeking help for his problems.

He said: "You were under pressure and you were in a very difficult position following the departure of your first wife, pressures of being the father of two young children and then on top of that all the pressures of general practise.

“During all that time you were clearly struggling from depression, and your mistake was you wanted to carry on because you had a duty to all your patients, but at the same time alleviate the pressure through medical means.

"As a doctor, you thought you could. You could have consulted others. I read into this, there was some level of pride.

"Your fault seems to be that you tried to medicate yourself, and the only way you could do it was through this fraud.”

Little, of Abercorn Close, Redcar , was given a four-month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months and ordered to pay £10,047 compensation to the NHS within a year, after he pleaded guilty to three charges of fraud.

The judge said: "There are very, very many matters of personal mitigation.

"The stresses - personal and professional - the sense of duty which drove you to continue, the fact this was entirely you feeling this was a sensible method of treatment and the fact so many people speak of you as a good doctor, and they hope, as you do, that you will be able to practise again."

He added: "I have read enough to see throughout this period you were able to care for patients who speak well of you, but what nobody appears to have quite appreciated is the pressure you were under.

"There was a speech to be made on this topic by the leader of doctors, according to the radio this morning - to the point where, perhaps, some are at breaking point."