DOCTORS contemplating industrial action must make the care of patients their first concern, says the GMC.
The regulator has released a statement in response to The British Medical Association (BMA) decision to ballot doctors in training in England about taking industrial action over the new contract proposed by the UK Government.
Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said: "The GMC’s core guidance, Good Medical Practice, does not prevent doctors from taking part in industrial action. However, any doctor contemplating industrial action must follow GMC guidance, which makes it clear that they must make the care of their patient their first concern.
"Doctors should take reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that arrangements are in place to care for their patients and should not disrupt the arrangements employers have made. Doctors have a responsibility for continuity and coordination of care, and for the safe transfer of patients between different teams. 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."
Mr Dickson said the GMC had been approached by a number of doctors asking advice on the matter though it recognised that the decision to hold the ballot is a matter for the BMA and its members.
He said: "We do understand the strength of feeling on this issue, and recognise the considerable pressure that doctors and NHS employers are under to deliver the high quality and safe care that patients expect.
"It is not for us to advise doctors on how to vote and we are not able to tell doctors in training what to do. It is a decision for them… However, we are here to protect patients, and we have a duty to remind doctors and employers of their responsibilities. Our advice is intended to be helpful."
The GMC has produced a set of FAQs on industrial action.