Concerns remain with well-intentioned refresh of GMC standards, says BMA

BMA Press release

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 22 August 2023
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Today the General Medical Council (GMC) has announced an update of its Good medical practice guidance, which details the principles, values and standards expected of doctors working in the UK. It is the first significant update to the guidance in 10 years.

The BMA welcomes and supports many of the individual updated standards, such as much needed clarity about unacceptable behaviours of sexual harassment and discrimination. However, significant concerns remain that when viewed together the expectations placed on individual doctors don’t reflect the current perilous state of the health service, and that many doctors do not believe their regulator will reach fair and proportionate decisions when concerns are raised about individual doctor behaviour or patient care. The Association has persistently called for the regulator to address the fear and distrust that the profession has towards it, which must start with a comprehensive independent review of the GMC’s processes while awaiting much needed legislative reform.

Responding to the GMC’s Good medical practice update Professor Phil Banfield, BMA council chair, said: “Good medical practice guidance is used as a benchmark to assess professional actions and behaviour. It is therefore crucial that it lays out robust and achievable standards rather than aspirational standards that doctors may fail to reach through no fault of their own.

“While many of the updates are reasonable on an individual level, when placed in the context of an extremely challenging health service - navigating chronic under-resourcing and the biggest backlog in the history of the NHS - doctors are rightly concerned that this will simply extend opportunities for individuals to be scapegoated when services (and the systems behind them) fail to meet the needs of patients. Doctors come to work to do the best job we can to care for our patients, and the GMC should not underestimate the impact that systemic pressures and failures have on doctors’ ability to provide safe care.

“If we are to truly create a fair and equal place of work within the NHS, then a three-tier approach must be adopted with a focus on not just reporting unacceptable discriminatory or sexual behaviours, but also improving the resolution of problems and creating a more supportive and inclusive culture, including mediation and resourced remediation processes. Encouraging individuals to speak up and report bullying and harassment, for example, will not be effective if doctors do not trust those who they are complaining to or if complaints are not taken seriously when people do.”

Notes to editors

The BMA is a professional association and trade union representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.