Whilst most doctors would expect and may even accept that their clinical practice ultimately and appropriately falls to be scrutinized by the GMC, few would expect that their actions outside of work could jeopardise their GMC registration.
The recent case of D v General Medical Council serves as a timely reminder of this; a doctor will usually be held accountable for his/her behaviour whether inside or outside of the workplace particularly where the ground of public confidence in the profession is engaged. Good Medical Practice requires that doctors “make sure that [their] conduct at all times justifies …patients’ trust in [them] and the public’s trust in the profession”. What is clear from this recent case (and this accords with other cases in which we have been instructed) is that a doctor’s personal life may well bring them to the attention of the GMC, often with serious, career-ending consequences.
D was a GP who, after the end of an extra-marital affair that had turned somewhat sour, was alleged to have blackmailed his former lover. The alleged threat was that D would circulate photographs of his former lover in sexual poses (so-called revenge porn) and tell her fiancé of their liaison. D’s criminal trial is listed for June 2015, he has pleaded not guilty. Notwithstanding, in October 2014 an Interim Orders Panel of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) imposed an 18-month interim suspension order on D’s registration on the basis that D’s conduct “potentially undermined public confidence in the profession”. Given the stage of the criminal proceedings, the Interim Orders Panel had limited information before it on which to base its decision. D appealed the interim suspension order. He lost.
The court hearing the appeal agreed with the Interim Orders Panel, stating that although these events were unconnected to D’s clinical practice (and concerned matters that he has not yet been convicted of), the allegations were serious and that there was a real likelihood of damage to public confidence in medical practitioners should D continue in unrestricted practice. The court took the stance that properly informed members of the public would be “surprised and dismayed” if they learnt that D was facing these charges but was able to continue to practise.
A doctor convicted of a serious criminal offence should expect to be sanctioned by the GMC. A doctor who is awaiting a criminal trial on matters quite unconnected with his ability to do his job may feel (legitimately) aggrieved when the GMC seek to restrict his ability to earn a living whilst he awaits the outcome of the criminal process and the GMC proceedings themselves. Knowing that my GP had an on-going (contested) criminal trial for allegations of this nature would not stop me using his services; perhaps I am not a sufficiently informed member of the public.
It’s not just criminal convictions (or charges) that could pique the interest of the GMC; non-court based criminal disposals, fixed penalty notices, cautions etc., which may seem low-level and insignificant at the time, may well be considered by the GMC to be far more serious. It is often these sorts of allegations that indemnity providers will not extend cover for, meaning that doctors in precarious positions consider attending GMC hearings without legal advice. We advise all doctors involved with the criminal justice system, however fleetingly, to take legal advice immediately, from a lawyer that understands the regulatory implications so that decisions made in front of a police officer or in a court have the minimum impact on their career.