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The GMC is set to strengthen its powers to monitor doctors, with plans to introduce frequent unannounced drug testing of doctors where concerns have been raised.

Under recommendations approv-ed by the council for consultation last week, it will table clearer guidelines on testing doctors who have had drug or alcohol problems in the past which have come to the attention of the GMC.

But critics warned the approach, contained in a report of the GMC's Health Review, would deter doctors from seeking help.

Michael Cotton, GMC policy and planning manager, said there was currently nothing to stop local medical supervisors conducting unannounced chemical testing on doctors with drug or alcohol problems. But he said current arrangements were not formalised clearly.

'We need to have a more detailed look at that,' he said.

Dr Jonathan Williams, secretary of the Sick Doctors Trust, described the proposed approach as draconian. He said GPs already feared having interim orders imposed on them that would prevent them from working if they exposed an addiction problem.

'It has become regarded as a disciplinary issue,' he added. 'I no longer tell doctors to tell the GMC about their own addiction.'

The report also recommended the GMC investigate the broader circumstances around an individual's addiction, including how it began and its impact on patient care.

It also advocated clearer policy on sharing information about a doctor's health with their employer, it said.

Dr Clare Gerada, director of the RCGP's sickness review unit, said spot checks were unlikely to reveal anything new and came with 'all sorts of isues about human rights and drug testing ­ rushing in and demanding a drug test may be counterproductive'.

GPC deputy-chair Dr Laurence Buckman said he hoped the aims were intended to be rehabilitative, but admitted he was concerned at how they might be construed.

By Daile Pepper

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