16 July, 2020
With a greater reliance by General Practitioners on the use of the Instant Messaging (IM) service within their practice when using the clinical SystmOne IT platform, there is an increasing risk of unintentionally using the system inappropriately; thereby resulting in action being taken by the General Medical Council (GMC). This is the case even when such messages remain private.
There have been several recent cases where General Practitioners have sent messages to colleagues describing their patients or colleagues in language which has been considered disparaging or derogatory. Frequently the GMC has relied upon paragraph 36 of the Good Medical Practice (GMP) to establish that action should be taken on a doctor's registration. This provides that doctors 'must treat colleagues fairly and with respect'. Furthermore, paragraph 65 provides that doctors 'must make sure that your conduct justifies your patients' trust in you and the public's trust in the profession'. These two paragraphs, along with a potential breach of the General Practice's 'Computer, Internet and Email Usage Policy', are frequently utilised by the GMC, at hearings conducted by both the Investigation Committee and at a Fitness to Practice hearing.
In deciding whether such actions amount to a 'case to answer', and thereafter be referred by the GMC, a doctor's response to the allegation is an important element of that decision-making. Forbes Solicitors are well situated to assist doctors in completing the letter (known as a rule 7 letter) in order to demonstrate insight into the gravity of the allegation and their responding remedial action. A comprehensive and persuasive letter containing relevant mitigating factors can prevent such a referral taking place.
If the GMC do refer cases to the Investigation Committee the outcomes available are to conclude the case with no action taken upon the doctor, impose a warning or refer the case to the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS). The latter is taken if the evidence suggest that the doctor should not be allowed to practise without restrictions. Legal representation at Investigation Committee hearings is therefore equally imperative and can save a doctor's ability to practise.
With over 8,500 enquiries regarding a doctor's fitness to practice being considered in 2018 by the GMC, the necessity for specialist lawyers in this field is growing. Some of the referrals to the MPTS can also overlap into potential criminal offences and so obtaining advice from Forbes Solicitors will ensure that not only the advice given is tailored to each individual doctor's circumstances but will be mindful of exposure to possible criminal allegations.