GMC ‘truly sorry’ for LGBTQ+ doctors action

by Tim Tonkin

Apology from regulator over steps it took while anti-gay legislation was in place

Location: UK
Published: Friday 23 February 2024
carrie mcewan

The GMC has formally apologised for its role in sanctioning and erasing from the medical register doctors convicted of offences under historic homophobic laws.

The medical regulator has said it is ‘truly sorry’ for taking regulatory action against doctors who had already experienced ‘personal and professional harm’ after being found guilty under now repealed anti-gay legislation.

In a statement, GMC chair Professor Dame Carrie MacEwen (pictured above) acknowledged the regulator had ‘compounded’ the harm done to doctors by subjecting them to fitness-to-practise proceedings.

She added that despite changes to the law, and the attitudes within society, more still needed to be done to support LGBTQ+ doctors and patients.

She said: ‘The General Medical Council has been the independent regulator of the UK medical profession for more than 160 years. During that time, we took regulatory action against a number of doctors because they had convictions based on sexuality. For that we want to apologise.

‘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.’

‘Times have changed, and so have we, but more still needs to be done to support LGBTQ+ doctors and patients. We all have a part to play in this. As a regulator and employer, we’re committed to championing equality, diversity and inclusivity in all that we do.’


Antiquated law

Until its decriminalisation in 1967, sexual activity between men was a criminal offence in England and Wales punishable by imprisonment.

During this time, the GMC said that it considered cases against at least 40 doctors ‘for engaging, or attempting to engage, in consensual sexual activity and intimacy with other men’.

At least eight doctors were ultimately removed from the medical register, with the last confirmed erasure occurring as late as 1966.

The formal apology, which comes during this year’s medicine-themed LGBTQ+ history month, has been welcomed by the Association of LGBTQ+ Doctors and Dentists (GLADD) and the BMA.

Emma Runswick RUNSWICK: Justice acknowledged

BMA council deputy chair Emma Runswick said: ‘Although the apology from GMC can never undo the harm done to doctors who had their careers destroyed, it is an important acknowledgement of the injustice, and we hope it brings some peace and vindication.'

Discrimination against LGBTQ+ doctors unfortunately persists despite our progress, and our profession and regulator must commit to combatting current, as well as historic, prejudice.’

In 2022, the BMA and GLADD published the findings of a study into sexual orientation and gender identity within medicine, which found that just 46 per cent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and queer doctors felt able to be open about their sexuality.

This month has also seen the association’s armed forces committee write to the Government warning against proposal to limit financial compensation offered to veterans forced out of the military under its ban on LGBT personnel.