Ensure GMC standards reflect realities of medical practice, MDU urges

Changes to the GMC’s core guidance for doctors could lead to more regulatory investigations, the MDU warned today.

The GMC is currently consulting on a new version of Good Medical Practice including widening the scope of the standards against which all doctors will be judged. Setting these standards is a key function of the GMC. By clearly defining what it expects of doctors, it provides a framework for ethical decision-making by practitioners and also a framework for fitness to practise decisions.

Dr Caroline Fryar, MDU director of medical services, said:

“The principles in Good Medical Practice underpin the relationship of trust between doctors and patients. Failure to follow them could lead to a fitness to practise investigation – undoubtedly one of the most stressful experiences a doctor could face.

“We are concerned that some sections in the proposed new guidance read as a vision of perfection and do not reflect the realities of doctors’ daily working lives. We worry the guidance will have unintended consequences such as increasing the number of investigations.”

Issues raised by the MDU in its response to the consultation on the proposed new guidance include:

  • Paragraph seven, which says, “You should take action, or support others to take action, if you witness or are made aware of bullying, harassment, or unfair discrimination.
    • The GMC is right to be looking at what it can do to support a safe and inclusive workplace culture in healthcare. However, the wording is currently unclear about the extent of doctors’ responsibilities, raising more questions about what a doctor is supposed to do in this situation than it answers.
  • Paragraph 22 says doctors “must treat patients with kindness, courtesy and respect”.
    • Kindness is something all healthcare professionals strive for but it means different things to different people. The MDU strongly feels this subjective term should not be included in the guidance.
  • Paragraph 73 says “You must not express your personal beliefs (including political, religious and moral beliefs) to patients in ways that exploit their vulnerability or are likely to cause them distress.”
    • In the current climate where debate is increasingly polarised, a patient might cite this in complaining about something they see during a consultation, such as a picture of the doctor and their same sex spouse or a badge showing support for a particular cause.

Dr Fryar concluded: “It is important to have maximum clarity from the GMC without creating sweeping and burdensome duties on doctors.”

Read more about the MDU’s consultation response in the MDU journal