New chaperone guidance protects doctors from accusations

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release: Monday, 25 March 2013

Doctors can avoid serious allegations arising from intimate patient examinations by following new guidance on the use of chaperones, says UK-wide medical defence organisation MDDUS.

The guidance Intimate Examinations and Chaperones is part of the updated edition of the GMC’s Good Medical Practice which is launched today (Monday, 25 March) and comes into effect on 22 April.

MDDUS believes the more precise advice regarding the use of chaperones can help reduce the number of doctors who face investigation because of accusations made following intimate examinations.

The new guidance advises that chaperones should: “stay for the whole examination and be able to see what the doctor is doing, if practicable.” The guidance also addresses the dilemma where a doctor wants a chaperone present but the patient declines one.

MDDUS has handled a large number calls regarding the use of chaperones, with queries including who can assist GPs as chaperones, alleged inappropriate conduct and concerns about patients who refuse a chaperone. Some cases have resulted in GMC hearings that could have been avoided had a chaperone been present for an examination.

MDDUS Joint Head of Medical Division Dr Anthea Martin says: “Being accused of inappropriately touching or examining a patient is one of the most serious complaints a doctor can receive and we deal with numerous calls asking for advice on the subject.

“If an examination of an intimate nature is not approached in the right way, a patient may complain to the GMC, or even the police, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the doctor’s career.

“The updated GMC guidance supports and protects the doctor. For example, we have had cases where doctors have been accused of inappropriately touching a patient after a chaperone had left the consultation. These accusations would have been avoided for doctors following the new advice.

“It is worth remembering the use of a chaperone can prevent any unfounded allegation of inappropriate behaviour during intimate examinations. Chaperones not only benefit the patient but the doctor too as there is a reduced risk of complaints or allegations being made against them.

“It is recommended that even when the doctor and patient are of the same gender, the offer of a chaperone is still made. Ultimately, the role of the chaperone is to reassure patients and offer emotional support as intimate examinations can be embarrassing or uncomfortable.”

The chaperone does not have to be medically qualified but should have received appropriate training and must be sensitive and respectful of the patient’s dignity and confidentiality.

“He or she should be prepared to reassure the patient if they show signs of distress or discomfort, be familiar with the procedures involved in a routine intimate examination and be prepared to raise concerns about a doctor’s behaviour where necessary,” adds Dr Martin.

Members have contacted MDDUS with concerns about patients refusing a chaperone. The new guidance encourages doctors to persuade patients to have a chaperone present, explaining the reasons behind the decision clearly to the patient. If this fails, then, in the patient’s best interests doctors should: “consider referring the patient to a colleague who would be willing to examine them without a chaperone, as long as a delay would not adversely affect the patient’s health.”

“Any decision that is made should take into account the patient’s best interests,” adds Dr Martin. “Doctors should record any discussions about a chaperone in their medical records. If the patient does not want a chaperone and the doctor is happy to proceed, then it should be noted that a chaperone was offered and declined.”

Click here to view the updated guidance.

Ends

For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email rihendry@mddus.com.

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK. For further information on MDDUS go to www.mddus.com.

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