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Doctor support service

Doctors who face GMC investigations or license withdrawal have access to a confidential support service from the BMA.

We recognise that being subject to a complaint or learning your license is at risk can be uniquely and deeply stressful. We also understand that many doctors might not have anyone to confide in while they undergo a GMC investigation.

As a result the GMC commissioned us to provide the Doctor support service, which offers emotional help from fellow doctors and functions independently of the GMC.

Get the inside view of how the Doctor support service works, how it can help and why it's vital to seek support early.


Read our feature

When a doctor calls for help
Dr Meng Aw-Yong explains the impact of a GMC investigation and where doctors can turn for support.

When a doctor calls for help

Dr Meng Aw\-Yong explores the impact of a GMC investigation and where doctors can turn for support.

KickerThis is a kicker.

Doctors arent bulletproof. However there is pressure to appear so \- stemming not only from the exacting culture of the profession and demands of patients, but the often punitively high expectations doctors have of themselves. That can be exacerbated by the very real external stresses under which many work, such as a huge workload and long hours in an increasingly overstretched NHS. A recent survey found that almost two out of three young hospital doctors say their physical or mental health is being damaged by an overload of stress. The sudden death of a colleague, suspended by the GMC after being found to be self\-medicating with morphine, deeply affected Dr Meng Aw\-Yong, an associate specialist at Hillingdon Hospital.


Vulnerable doctors

> Its about talking to people.

As well as his job as a SAS doctor, Dr Aw\-Yong is also an SAS LNC rep, a suitable person and appraiser, a medical advisor at St John Ambulance, medical director for the Metropolitan Police, a tribunal member of the Ministry of Justice and a fitness\-to\-practise assessor for the GMC . Wearing these different hats means he has worked with a wide range of doctors and an even wider range of issues, while his role with the GMC gives him a unique, dual perspective. He knows how it feels on both sides of the fence and he knows doctors are a very vulnerable group.

What makes doctors vulnerable?

The reasons vary. They may feel that as a doctor, they cannot ask for help. Often, they're working in relative isolation without much opportunity to communicate their feelings, or more practically, they may be working long hours without appropriate support, but a common thread that runs throughout: they dont ask for help soon enough.

> Doctors join the profession to help patients. They have a lot of pride, spend a lot of time training, so any issues raised are really hard to deal with.

Stress can escalate out of control around certain situations and that includes receiving a complaint. Ultimately if complaints cannot be dealt with at a local level, a doctor may find themselves receiving a letter from the GMC.


What is the role of the GMC?

When it comes to the complaints system in the UK medical profession, GMC investigations are the tip of the iceberg. Beneath them lie formal and informal hospital internal inquiries, serious untoward incident \(SUI\) investigations, and disputes with managers and colleagues. The GMC \(General Medical Council\) is an independent organisation that helps to protect patients and improve medical education and practice across the UK. Under the powers of the Medical Act \(1983\), the GMC acts as the regulator and sets standards that doctors are expected to follow. It has the power to warn, suspend or restrict the practice of doctors or permanently remove them from the register.

Notice of a GMC investigation starts with a letter through the door.





When doctors need support

Between 2005 and 2013, 28 doctors involved in GMC fitness to practise proceedings died from suicide or suspected suicide.

In 2012, the Doctor support service was set up at the request of the GMC, in recognition that the investigations can be uniquely stressful. It provides confidential emotional support to doctors going through GMC procedures. For most doctors, notice that a complaint has become a GMC investigation starts with a letter through the door. The doctor support service takes on around 120 new cases each year, and is open to all doctors, regardless of being a BMA member. Doctors using the service can receive up to six hours of support over the telephone and face\-to\-face support at a GMC hearing. Most call because they feel they have no\-one else to talk to. They might not feel comfortable talking to their GP, colleagues or family. Often they are at the end of their tether.


The GMC is not out to get you

70% of cases brought to the GMC dont end in an investigation.

It is important to remember that there are roughly 9,000 complaints made to the GMC per year. Of those, 70% are closed at the triage stage. The GMC aims to complete investigations within six months but this is often delayed by the wait for reports from various experts. On average approximately 70 doctors are removed from the register each year. But whatever stage you reach in an investigation, it is inevitably a distressing experience. We are here to help \- whether or not you are a BMA member.


Where to go for help

**If you have been affected by any of these issues, find help here:** [Doctor support service](\-life\-support/your\-wellbeing/doctor\-support\-service) [BMA counselling and Doctor advisor service](\-life\-support/your\-wellbeing/bma\-counselling\-and\-doctor\-advisor\-service) [GMC guide for doctors referred for investigation](http://www.gmc\\_under\_investigation/a\_guide\_for\_referred\_doctors.asp) **For doctors referred to a GMC hearing:** [Take a virtual tour of the GMC hearing centre](http://www.mpts\ [Resources for self\-represented doctors](http://www.mpts\


**Digital producer and writer:** Emma Lindsey **Senior multimedia producer:** Matthew Saywell **Graphic designer:** Alex Gay **Senior designer:** Tim Grant **Senior production editor**: Lisa Hansson **With special thanks to:** Dr Meng Aw\-Yong for his time and contribution, to the GMC for its co\-operation and iStock for supplementary images.



Who is the service aimed at?

You don't have to be a BMA member to get support.

Where a complaint has been made to the GMC any doctor can ask for support from the Doctor support service. The support is available from when a complaint is made until the outcome of the case. Doctors unable to talk with family or supportive colleagues may find the service particularly useful.

The Doctor Support Service has recently been made available to include doctors who are at risk of having their license withdrawn. If you receive any communication from the GMC indicating that your license to practise is at risk you are welcome to use this service.


What sort of support is available?

This service will support colleagues through a very stressful time, which not only affects their professional lives but also impacts on their personal lives. 

Dr Mike Peters, BMA Wellbeing Support Services 

  • 6 hours of telephone support, subject to availability, from the time a complaint is received by the GMC until the matter is concluded. Or from the time you receive notification from the GMC that your license to practice is at risk.

  • Face to face support, subject to availability of supporters, on the first day of a hearing and one further day if the hearing runs for more than a day

  • An orientation visit on the morning of your hearing, if you would find it useful to look around the hearing room before it starts. You can arrange this with your supporter.

  • Or watch a tour of the hearing centre on the MPTS website.


Will the supporter help me with my case?

The supporter will be able to talk to you about how you feel about what is happening and help you to find strategies to cope with the stress of the proceedings.

You can ask the supporter to come with you if you are required to attend a fitness to practice hearing.

The service is not able to offer advice about your case. You should speak to your defence organisation or legal representative about that.

If you want help with understanding the GMC's fitness to practice procedures you can contact the investigation officer who is handling your case.



Doctor support service leaflet (PDF)


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Privacy notice

Our Doctor Support Service only collects data and personal information from you. Categories of data collected will include name, telephone number, email address, ethnicity, specialty, location of work, age, gender. This data will be held for up to 20 years to ensure quality and consistency of service and in line with our legal requirements.

We do not disclose this information to any third parties unless legally obliged to.

In those rare cases where a doctor's health problem appears to pose a risk to their patients, the doctor supporter has a responsibility to prevent harm. The doctor supporter will try to encourage the doctor to obtain appropriate help to change whatever presents a risk to patients. Failure on the doctor's part to comply will mean that the doctor supporter will have to take advice on how to act and this may be by contacting the GMC. However, we anticipate these occasions will be very rare and will only ever be undertaken as a means of last resort.

For further details see the BMA's privacy policy.