DOCTORS who plan to take part in industrial action scheduled to begin tomorrow must work to minimise the impact on patients, says the GMC.
The regulator released an updated statement after trainee doctors in England overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action over proposed changes to their contracts.
General Medical Council chief executive Niall Dickson said it was crucial that the impact on patients was kept to a minimum.
He said: “As we have made clear, we expect doctors in training who plan to take part in the BMA’s action to take reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that arrangements will be in place to care for their patients, and to inform their senior colleagues and employers of their intentions in good time.
“Working within their organisations, senior doctors will now start working with employers and the wider healthcare system on plans to make sure there is a safe service, so that the impact on patients is kept to a minimum.”
He acknowledged doctors’ legal right to take industrial action, and said he was “confident they will act responsibly in what is a tense and difficult situation.”
But he added a note of caution, saying that: “As our guidance makes clear, if a doctor’s actions caused patients serious harm, or put them at risk of serious harm, we have a statutory duty to investigate, and the doctor must be prepared to justify the decisions they have made.”
Any doctor contemplating industrial action, he said, must follow GMC guidance, which makes it clear that they must make the care of their patient their first concern.
"Doctors have a responsibility for continuity and coordination of care, and for the safe transfer of patients between different teams,” Mr Dickson said. “Their actions must not harm patients or put them at risk.
"We recognise that the circumstances facing each doctor will be different, and it will therefore be a matter for each individual to assess their own situation and make sure this guidance is followed."
The GMC has produced a set of FAQs on industrial action.
The British Medical Association balloted 45,000 trainee doctors in England, with a turnout of 76 per cent. Ninety eight per cent of respondents said they were prepared to take part in industrial action, while 99.4 per cent said they would take part in action short of a full strike. The ballot gives doctors’ approval for a rolling programme of industrial action.
The first date has been set for tomorrow, December 1, when hospitals will only provide emergency care. This is to be followed by an 8am to 5pm walk-out on December 8 and 16.