The General Medical Council (GMC) has issued a formal apology for taking regulatory action against doctors who, in historic cases, had convictions under now-repealed homophobic laws.

Its Chair, Professor Dame Carrie MacEwen, said the regulator was ‘truly sorry’ for compounding the harm already faced by doctors who had convictions that would now be considered unjust.

The GMC has been the independent regulator of UK doctors for more than 160 years. During that time, it considered cases against at least 40 practitioners for engaging, or attempting to engage, in consensual sexual activity and intimacy with other men. 

In the formal apology, Dame Carrie said:

‘Homophobic laws and attitudes, that were in place into the 1980s and beyond, caused personal and professional harm. We compounded that harm when we also took additional regulatory action against those who were on the medical register. In some cases that meant the end of a practitioner’s career. For this we are truly sorry.’

The GMC’s archivist, working with members of the regulator’s LGBTQ+ staff network, has searched records for cases of doctors who were subject to fitness to practise proceedings because they had criminal convictions based on sexuality.

At least 40 individuals were found, dating back to the 1890s. At least eight doctors were struck off the medical register as a result. The last confirmed erasure was in 1966, although other doctors were issued with warnings.

UK Fitness to Practise News

Dame Carrie said:

‘We cannot be sure of the true number of doctors we took historic action against based on convictions that would now be considered unjust. But the impact on every one of them, and on those close to them, will have been considerable.

Dr Duncan McGregor, of GLADD – The Association of LGBTQ+ Doctors and Dentists, said:

‘GLADD welcomes this apology by the GMC for the historic injustices of regulatory action taken against doctors due to homophobic laws. The profound impact of these actions on their lives cannot be overstated. This apology is an important step in righting the wrongs of the past and, while the hurt and damage that has been caused to those doctors cannot be undone, it is important to acknowledge past injustices.

‘Although the threat of erasure from the medical register due to a doctor’s sexuality no longer looms, prejudice against LGBTQ+ healthcare staff persists to this day. This apology represents progress towards justice for those impacted by these historic homophobic laws, and progress for the LGBTQ+ community. We hope this gesture brings some measure of solace to those affected doctors and their loved ones.

‘It is particularly important to recognise that this initiative came from within the GMC, and we extend our gratitude to members of the GMC’s LGBTQ+ staff network for their work and dedication in helping to bring about this apology.’

For anyone affected by this issue, our equality, diversity and inclusion pages provide support and further information.

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