Follow our simple guide on what to do if you are concerned about a medical colleague and their state of physical or mental health.
Worrying signs to look for
What to do about your concerns
Next steps to take
Sources of help
When discussing your concerns, you should make clear the nature of your worry and the reasons for it. Specific examples are helpful to illustrate the reasons for your view that health may be the problem.
Although the process can be very difficult and stressful for a doctor, if there are serious health concerns it is better for everyone concerned, particularly the doctor, that the concerns are picked up and dealt with appropriately as soon as possible. Waiting until an adverse event occurs or a patient is harmed can be very damaging for both the doctor and the patients under their care.
Who to talk to
Ideally any concerns raised should be dealt with at a local level.
The process can be difficult and stressful for a doctor but it is better for everyone, particularly the doctor, that the concerns are dealt with appropriately.
Once you have brought your concerns to the attention of an appropriate person such as the educational supervisor or the clinical director, the matter should be looked into by the trust, deanery or local education and training board (LETB), in a sympathetic but structured way, to determine whether the concerns reflect a health problem serious enough to impact on the doctor's work.
This is likely to include referral to the occupational health department, and possibly a request for information from the doctor's GP or other specialists, and may involve temporary exclusion from the workplace before sick leave is arranged.
Some excellent resources are available to assist doctors with mental health concerns or addiction, and these should be highlighted to the doctor.
If all else fails
If the doctor is moving to another area, or unwilling to cooperate with the advice either from occupational health or the trust, deanery or LETB, they may be to be reported to the GMC.
Keeping in touch with colleagues who are unwell and letting them know that their colleagues are concerned about them can be vital.
If this happens, the GMC are likely to initiate a fitness to practice investigation and arrange health assessments for the doctor in question.
Most trusts, deaneries or LETBs and the GMC are reasonably sympathetic to doctors with health problems, although the processes maybe prolonged and can lead to feelings of isolation for the doctors involved, particularly if they are temporarily excluded or on sick leave.
Keeping in touch with colleagues who are unwell, and letting them know that their colleagues are concerned about them, can be vital to reassure doctors in this position that they have support.
Coming back to work
Many doctors returning to work after a substantial period of sick leave will have a phased and supervised return. Again, colleague support during the return to work is crucial and can make the difference between a difficult and stigmatising experience, and a positive and constructive return to full clinical practice.
The BMA can offer doctors professional support as well as direct you to other sources of help.