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Independents' Day

How should I sort out a potential 'love triangle'?

I have known my fellow partner for many years. He is competent and charming. One of his patients saw me recently saying that he had made advances towards her and she wanted to change GP to me. I was non-committal. When I discussed this with my partner he said the patient actually made advances to him, which he rejected. He begged me to take her off his hands. I am the same age and sex as him and prefer a quiet family life. What should I do?

GP's advice

Distant bells warn of a GMC hearing

If you listen carefully you may hear the warning toll of a distant bell heralding a future GMC hearing. If you are not wise and very careful in this situation your professional integrity could be at risk as well as your friendship and working relationship with your partner.

This may be a simple misunderstanding but at worst either your partner or the patient is lying.

Given the nature of the problem the doctor patient relationship between them is now irretrievable.

If your partner is correct you would be taking on a patient who could transfer her affections to you at any time, putting you in a professional danger zone. If the patient is correct, antagonising her runs the risk of provoking a formal complaint, although she may be planning this anyway.

It also poses questions about your partner's present and future integrity.

I doubt you will ever be able to untangle the exact facts. From a practical point of view, advise your partner to consult his defence organisation for advice.

It is likely he will be asked to make a detailed record of his contacts with the patient in case a complaint is forthcoming. It will also be a useful and sobering learning experience for him.

In a two-partner practice it is impossible to avoid these two coming into contact again. You should explain this to the patient as sympathetically as possible and ask her to find an alternative GP, with your help if required.

If a complaint subsequently emerges, initially follow your

in-house procedure with ample medicolegal advice.

GP's advice

This is a really mad situation

This is a really mad situation, and however much you respect your partner, colluding with him could drag you both down.

There are three possible explanations. The patient may have completely mistaken his charm for something more personal, and feel too foolish, embarrassed or angry to consult him again. On the other hand, there could be a real danger of him (or you) becoming the victim of de Clerambault's syndrome.

The third possibility is that he genuinely made advances to her, breaching his position of trust. And if she reciprocated, another worry is that patients are often silent about liaisons with their doctors until they are rejected.

Finding out the truth may be impossible, but you may have to consider acting under the Duties of a Doctor.

But you will need to be careful to distinguish between facts and suspicions, and risk alienating your partner whatever happens. The safest course is probably for each of you to discuss the details confidentially with different members of the LMC and/or your medical defence societies (and possibly your wife to avoid trouble later).

You will need to talk to the patient, probably with a third party present, and make contemporaneous notes. It is clearly unwise for either of you to continue as her GP, but she may be offended at being asked to leave the list, so this will have to be handled carefully.

She may eventually make a complaint; this is best handled formally by the practice manager and your defence society.

The relationships between you, your partner and your patients are likely to be changed forever.

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