Updated Good Medical Practice for doctors focuses on behaviour towards colleagues
The regulator for doctors, the General Medical Council (GMC), has recently published an updated Good Medical Practice for doctors. This contains the standards of good practice that doctors must adhere to and will be judged against if allegations are made against them. This is the first time the standards have been updated in 10 years, and will come into effect on 30 January 2024.
There is a new section entirely dedicated to doctors’ behaviour with colleagues, entitled Contributing to a positive working and training environment. Previously, expected behaviours of doctors were included in the section relating to how patients should be treated.
Sexual harassment is covered specifically for the first time. New standard 57 makes it clear that doctors must not act in a sexual way towards colleagues with the effect or purpose of causing offence, embarrassment, humiliation or distress. What can constitute acting in a “sexual way” includes verbal or written comments, sharing images as well as unwelcome physical contact.
There is also a new standard 58, which places a duty on a doctor to take action if they witness discriminatory, bullying, harassing or sexually harassing behaviour towards a colleague. This could include:
- Offering support to the target of such behaviour;
- Challenging the behaviour with the person responsible; or
- Reporting the behaviour in accordance with their workplace policy.
Those in a formal leadership or management role are also expected to act appropriately if they witness or are made aware of any of the above sorts of behaviours (new standard 59), in particular:
- Making sure such behaviours are adequately addressed;
- Making sure people are supported where necessary; and
- Making sure concerns are dealt with promptly, being escalated where necessary.
These standards reflect the emphasis in recent years that regulators are placing on ensuring appropriate behaviours by regulated individuals towards colleagues, in addition to patients/clients. There is a focus on the workplace being a safe environment, and a duty on managers and leaders to ensure inappropriate behaviours are dealt with promptly and adequately. This is a major shift from the previous Good Medical Practice, where there was one solitary standard imposing a duty on doctors not to unfairly discriminate against patients or colleagues.
Professor Dame Carrie MacEwen, chair of the GMC has said:-
“Sexual harassment, bullying and discrimination are entirely unacceptable. Where workplace cultures of this kind of behaviour go unchecked, they are detrimental to wellbeing, performance and patient safety. Doctors are increasingly, and bravely, speaking out about it, and as a regulator, it is important we leave no doubt that such behaviour has no place in our health services.
Those who experience harassment or discrimination must feel supported to speak out, by employers, peers, managers and leaders. We heard from thousands of doctors, patients and members of the public during the consultation. We hope that by addressing this issue so clearly in the standards, this will spark discussion on making meaningful cultural change throughout medicine.”
Doctors can be left in no doubt that unwanted discriminatory, bullying, or harassing behaviour towards colleagues will not be tolerated by the GMC. The new standards explicitly explain that this sort of behaviour (and examples of it) is unacceptable, whereas before it was simply referred to as “unfair discrimination”.
It remains to be seen how strictly the new standards are applied and how many doctors find themselves before fitness to practise panels for behaviour that was once acceptable. However, it is fair to assume that the GMC will not take complaints of such behaviour lightly.
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Articles are intended as an introduction to the topic and do not constitute legal advice.