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Don't make GPs hide their illness

GPs are warning the GMC not to press ahead with plans to allow disclosure of medical information about doctors whose illness affects their fitness to practise.

By Helen Crump

The GMC agreed last week to develop guidance on dealing with doctors whose fitness was impaired by ill-health after accepting the recommendations of its Health Review Group.

The review group recommended the GMC develop a 'clear policy on the circumstances in which it should share conditions and undertakings which relate to a doctor's health'.

Disclosure could be to the doctor's workplace supervisor, medical supervisor, treating doctor and the doctor's employer.

But GPs warned that doctors would hide their illnesses if they feared the details would be shared widely.

Dr Fay Wilson, who chairs GMC fitness to practise health panels, said panellists had recently received revised guidelines on dealing with sensitive information.

Applying the rules while minimising disclosure of confidential medical details was 'very challenging', she said.

'If you don't manage to do this successfully, doctors won't have confidence, so private matters will be kept private and in the long run this will be to the detriment of the patients' safety, the doctor's health and the GMC,' Dr Wilson warned.

The GMC said that responses to its consultation had been generally positive. All respondents had 'supported the need for a more organisised system of care and treatment for ill doctors', it said.

But some respondents, including the Sick Doctors Trust, Doctors Support Network and the National Patient Safety Agency had expressed concerns about sharing medical information and advised that doctors with an illness should expect the same right to privacy as any other patient.

Dr Alasdair Young, vice-chair of the Sick Doctors Trust, said it had been encouraging the GMC not to allow such a wide release of information about doctors with health problems.

The GMC has also given its support to the Health Review Group's proposal for unannounced drug testing of doctors subject to medical supervision.

A GMC spokeswoman said it would be taking into consideration all consultation responses. The guidelines are due to be implemented this year.

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