Updated GMC guidance highlights support for doctors to “speak out”

  • Date: 22 August 2023

NHS leaders must support doctors to act when faced with challenging behaviours at work – so says MDDUS in response to the publication by the General Medical Council of updated professional standards in Good medical practice (GMP).

The GMC says it makes clear in the revised guidance the “supportive role those in positions of formal leadership and management must play in making sure behaviours are addressed, dealt with promptly and escalated if necessary”.

Publication of the updated GMP coincides with the sentencing of former nurse Lucy Letby to a whole-life jail term for the murder of seven babies and attempted murder of six others in a neonatal unit at the Countess of Chester Hospital. Senior doctors at the hospital claim their concerns over Letby were dismissed by healthcare managers.

Chief medical officer at MDDUS, Dr John Holden, commented: “As current events demonstrate, doctors will only feel empowered to speak out when they witness wrongdoing if they can have confidence their concerns will be heard and acted on by senior clinical leaders, NHS managers and the GMC itself.

“The GMC is clear it wants the revised version of GMP to be seen by doctors as a supportive document. It - quite rightly - goes as far as to state that doctors who witness unacceptable behaviour, including any form of bullying, discrimination or harassment, should do something about it.

“This is welcome, but of course GMP will be used in the real world. That has to mean that whenever the GMC believes a Trust is failing to support doctors voicing serious concerns it calls this out publicly and involves the Care Quality Commission.”

In its first major update to GMP in ten years, the GMC also includes specific guidance on zero tolerance of sexual harassment, including clear definitions of what constitutes it and an expectation that doctors who see such behaviour will act. The new guidance states explicitly that doctors “must not act in a sexual way towards colleagues with the effect or purpose of causing offence, embarrassment, humiliation or distress”.

It also sets out in clear terms what doctors should do if they witness bullying or harassment.

Publication of the updated GMP follows the largest ever public consultation conducted by the GMC. It comes into effect from Tuesday 30 January 2024 and will apply to all doctors on the UK medical register.

Dr Holden commented further: “The revised version we see today is the result of considerable consultation, which MDDUS was pleased to be a part of.

“Overall, this update is welcome and has many laudable aims not least the inclusion for the first time of a clear statement that doctors must treat patients kindly.

“Quite clearly this is something no one can disagree with. However, kindness is subjective, and we will monitor this closely to see how this develops in practice and whether it creates an increase in referrals to the GMC.”

This page was correct at the time of publication. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

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