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Ban on GP child antidepressant use

GMC debate

From Dr Simon Fisher

Newcastle upon Tyne

The fury of correspondents in reply to my letter about the GMC's publication of medical information regarding doctors is evident (Letters, 17 September). However, these writers have misinterpreted my analogy with the criminal justice system and I would like to set the record straight.

Clearly health-impaired doctors are not usually criminals and it was never my intention to imply that they are. The criminal justice system makes information public which clearly demonstrates a person has mental health issues, yet nobody claims this is a breach of medical confidentiality or calls for court sentences to be secret.

Contrast that situation with a doctor involved in interim order or fitness to practise procedures where the GMC, in its statutory role, publishes information which may reveal in broad but non-specific terms the nature of a doctor's illness.

Suddenly there are shrieks of protest and claims that there can never be justification for publication of this type of information. This strikes me as hypocrisy in that one sector of society is claiming something for itself which it is happy to deny to another.

In replies, I have been accused of stigmatising colleagues with mental health issues and exhibiting the prejudice against them that they perceive to exist within the profession itself. I would argue that these doctor-patients, by seeking to keep their illnesses secret, are clearly demonstrating their own prejudice, the very things of which I stand accused.

Furthermore, open and honest dialogue about their illness and limitations may well foster greater understanding by their colleagues and employers and be ultimately to their own benefit, for example in altered work patterns, or additional help.

The GMC's proposals on sick doctor disclosures are to be welcomed. It is my personal view that where health-related issues impair a doctors' ability to do his or her job competently and safely, and if the doctor still wishes to practise, then details of these problems must be made available for the benefit of patient safety and ultimately the doctor concerned.

Whether that information is public or only available to employers, partners or PCTs is another matter entirely.

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