Kings View Chambers looks at the GMC’s new “zero tolerance of sexual harassment” and what this means for doctors.

Good medical practice 2024

The GMC has published an update of the Good medical practice, which details the “principles, values and standards” expected of doctors working in the UK. It is the first major update to the guidance in ten years.

The areas of particular notice in the updated Good medical practice (GMP) are updates relating to:

  • creating respectful, fair and compassionate workplaces for colleagues and patients
  • promoting patient centred care
  • tackling discrimination
  • championing fair and inclusive leadership
  • supporting continuity of care and safe delegation.

The GMC placed specific emphasis on its “zero tolerance of sexual harassment” in the updated GMP that, for the first time, includes a “clear definition of what constitutes it and an expectation that doctors who see such behaviour will act”.

Sexual harassment in the Good medical practice

Under the new “Domain 3: Colleagues, culture and safety”, the GMP states (summarised):

“Everyone has the right to work and train in an environment which is fair, free from discrimination, and where they’re respected and valued as an individual.”

“You must not act in a sexual way towards colleagues with the effect or purpose of causing offence, embarrassment, humiliation or distress. What we mean by acting ‘in a sexual way’ can include – but isn’t limited to – verbal or written comments, displaying or sharing images, as well as unwelcome physical contact.”

Additionally, the updated GMP states:

“If you witness any of the behaviours described in paragraphs 56 or 57 you should act, taking account of the specific circumstances.”

For doctors in management positions, the updated GMP also states:

“If you have a formal leadership or management role and you witness – or are made aware of – any of the behaviours described in paragraphs 56 or 57, you must act. You have to make sure such behaviours are adequately addressed, make sure people are supported where necessary, and make sure concerns are dealt with promptly, being escalated where necessary.”

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Maintaining personal and professional boundaries

The GMP makes clear that doctors “must follow” the GMC’s more detailed guidance on maintaining personal and professional boundaries.

This guidance covers situations where a doctor finds themselves in a situation where they are unsure about the behaviour or comments a colleague may have made, which may breach professional boundaries and require action.

MPTS Sanctions & sexual harassment

The Medical Practitioners Tribunals (MPT) Sanctions Guidance[1] states (summarised & emphasis added):

  •  “Doctors are expected to work collaboratively with colleagues to maintain or improve patient care.

  • More serious outcomes are likely to be appropriate if there are serious findings that involve … sexual harassment.

  • “Sexual misconduct … encompasses a wide range of conduct from criminal convictions for sexual assault and sexual abuse of children (including child sex abuse materials) to sexual misconduct with patients, colleagues, patients’ relatives or others.

  • “Sexual misconduct seriously undermines public trust in the profession. More serious action, such as erasure, is likely to be appropriate in such cases.”

Allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct attracts the most serious sanctions available to the GMC and an MPT.  Under the outgoing GMP, allegations relating to sexual harassment and misconduct fell under the heading of “Maintaining Trust” and according to GMC data, allegations relating to this heading constituted the second-highest category of complaints and allegations. 

We need to be clear though that “Maintaining Trust” covers a range of allegations and therefore not exclusively an indicator of the number of allegations relating to sexual harassment and misconduct.  It does however serve as a good indication of the high prevalence of this type of complaint and allegation and the need, therefore, for doctors to take extra care to safeguard themselves.

Good Medical Practice – when was the last time you actually read it?

 The GMP is the key document in which the GMC sets out your ethical duties as a doctor, and it is used as a benchmark in virtually all tribunal decisions.  When listing factors that help to determine the seriousness of sanctions that would be appropriate, the top item on the list is:

“The extent to which the doctor departed from the principles of Good Medical Practice.”

It is important that doctors take the time to read and understand the Good Medical Practice to safeguard their registration.

Kings View Barristers

With over 30 years combined experience, Kings View Chambers have established itself as one of the best when it comes to fitness to practise defence.  We fully understand that fitness to practise defence is not merely about processes and procedures.  We also understand that we are working with people who are anxious and worried about what investigations might mean for them, their professions and the reputations.

We are proud to be rated ‘excellent’ by our clients.  Our commitment to client care is genuine in both seeking the very best outcomes for our clients, but also ensuring we do what we can to support them through the process.

Contact us today for a no obligation and free telephone consultation about your case in the knowledge that you are speaking to one of the best in the business.

[1] Guidance for new hearings starting on or after 16 November 2020.

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