UPDATED guidance for GMC decision makers assessing individual fitness to practise cases aims to ensure that the context of the pandemic is taken into account and decisions are “fair and proportionate to the circumstances”.
The new guidance acknowledges that the Covid-19 pandemic has created significant and unfamiliar challenges for doctors in delivering safe and effective healthcare.
It advises that decision makers should take into account specific circumstances arising as a result of the pandemic, such as the availability and distribution of resources and the change in healthcare provision including social distancing guidance, virtual consultations and delays in emergency, urgent and elective services.
The guidance also recognises the impact of uncertainty and a rapidly evolving evidence-base, as well as doctors having to work outside of normal routine/practice and in unfamiliar roles, teams and environments at short notice.
Other factors cited include:
- access and availability of personal protective equipment (PPE)
- staff shortages due to Covid-19 infection or self-isolation requirements
- changing and sometimes conflicting guidance and protocols, often produced and communicated quickly
- wearing PPE for extended periods of time can create discomfort and impede communication with patients and colleagues
- the effectiveness of existing clinical governance processes creating unexpected challenges for leaders and managers.
The guidance also acknowledges the sustained and extreme periods of fatigue experienced by some doctors, as well as significant distress and emotional trauma.
In October of 2021, acting GMC Chair Professor Dame Carrie MacEwen wrote to all registrants: “We know that the environment in which a doctor practises has a material impact on the care they provide. In the fluid and unpredictable context of a pandemic, this link is especially acute. That's why I want to reassure you that any concerns raised about a doctor over this time will take into account the extraordinary circumstances we are, and have been, living through.”