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GPs advised not to give phone consultations to travelling patients

GPs in one area have been advised not to consult with patients over the phone while they are abroad, even just for a short time.

Sheffield LMC said the advice comes after they were ‘made aware’ that some GPs were not indemnified to carry out telephone consultations ‘with patients who are outside the UK’ for less than three months.

Patients who are abroad for longer than three months are not allowed to register with a practice in the UK at all.

In its monthly newsletter, Sheffield LMC said: ‘For those people who are overseas for a short period, it is a matter for individual practices to decide how to deal with requests for advice.

‘However, we have been made aware of a defence organisation’s indemnity provision being limited to UK patients only, and that members are not indemnified for telephone consultations carried out with patients who are outside the UK.

‘In view of this, we would advise against offering telephone advice to patients while abroad.’

Dr Caroline Fryar, MDU head of advisory services, said their memberships ‘require both the doctor and patient to be located in the UK at the time the patient is advised or treated’.

But she said there is ‘a degree of discretion’ in that if a patient contacts their GP ‘whilst the patient was on holiday with an enquiry about a longstanding condition’ the MDU ‘would have no difficulty with the GP providing the advice or information sought’.

Dr Fryar told Pulse: ‘If, however, that patient contacted their GP in the UK to seek medical advice about a new condition that had arisen while they were abroad and potentially needed managing abroad (for example gastroenteritis, sunburn or an injury) it would be prudent for their UK-based GP to advise they seek local assessment and management.

‘Registered practice patients who are only abroad transiently are clearly unlikely to later make a claim in that foreign jurisdiction, but attempting to provide remote management of conditions presenting abroad raises issues relating to medical registration, professional responsibility and jurisdiction as well as indemnity.’

The advice comes as NHS England is pushing for GPs to consult remotely to a greater extent, including a GP Forward View £45m investment towards online consultations.

Readers' comments (4)

  • David Banner

    “Doc, I’ve got crushing chest pain radiating down my left arm and I can hardly breathe”
    “Get yourself straight to A&E!”
    “But I’m in Cyprus”
    “Really? Oh, I’m hanging up now, goodbye “

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  • use common sense. advise and tell then my indemnity organisation does not cover and I am just doing you a favour. almost all patient would be happy to accept it. I had phone call from Spain and Saudi Arabia.

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  • nonsense. they are all registered patients, or how do they get past reception to speak to doctor?
    If MDU makes it known their GPs won't discuss with their patients while abroad, the patients will omit to mention that they are overseas at the time.
    PS, does overseas include patients registered in Wales who are holidaying in England?

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  • anonymouse3 makes an interesting point, a celtic country GP may not be on NHS England's performers list, so technically cant practice in England where the patient is.

    Previous GMC guidance was that you could not speak on the phone to a patient in another country unless you were on the GMC-equivalent register for that country. The place of the consultation was defined as the place where the patient was. So you couldn't speak to your holidaying patients in Spain unless you were registered to practice in Spain. Apparently that is all old school now with the recent advent of easy international communication provided by the internet and mobile phone companies.

    Recently I have noted that European law allows primary care physicians in any EU country to consult by phone/internetapp with patients in any other EU country (EU law allows freedom to trade), they don't have to be registered with the UK GMC to treat UK resident patients, so long as they do not enter the UK to practice.

    East European medical indemnity organisations presumably have not yet experienced the spiraling costs endemic in the UK, so are prepared to cover their GPs. Presumably this will all end post-Brexit

    The FAQ on BabylonHealth states, What countries can I use babylon from? - babylon can be downloaded in any country. As long as there is a suitable WIFI connection the consultation can also be carried out anywhere.

    It is only our medical defence agencies protecting us from being international physicians. I'd pay a supplement to ensure that this restriction remained in place, so I couldn't treat patients abroad!

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