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GMC to review effect of poor mental health in 'wider doctor population'

Exclusive The GMC is set to launch a review into the ‘wider question of mental health and wellbeing’ of all doctors, regardless of whether they are under investigation by the regulator.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey, told Pulse that he is 'very concerned' over the mental health of 'the wider doctor population' as discussions over doctor resilience 'tend to personalise the problems for the doctor rather than the context in which they are working'.

He said that following a review into the impact of GMC investigations on doctors in 2016, the GMC made changes to its fitness to practice processes, opting to spare doctors with mental health problems from a full investigation.

But speaking at Pulse Live in London yesterday, Mr Massey said the GMC's responsibility to doctors' mental wellbeing is 'actually deeper than that'.

He said: 'I believe that the GMC has a locus to think about and care about the mental health and wellbeing of the wider doctor population. It’s not just about doctors going through our processes.'

Mr Massey said that he has asked Dame Denise Coia, chair of Health Improvement Scotland, and senior King's Fund fellow Professor Michael West to lead on the review which would look that the ‘wider question of mental health and wellbeing’ in the medical profession.

He said that doctors who have a mental illness 'are more likely to make mistakes, they're more likely to leave the profession and I don’t believe that anybody other than the GMC will be sufficiently well placed' to take on the review.

This comes after a study in the BMJ found that nearly four in five doctors with complaints lodged against them feel the investigation process was ‘needlessly’ long and meant they were more likely to experience depression and anxiety.

Is Fitness to Practice fit for purpose?

The GMC has previously pledged to introduce 'resilience training’ similar to that offered to soldiers in Afghanistan in order to be prepared for the 'occupational hazard’ of a GMC investigation.

A review launched by the GMC proposed doctors with mental health or addiction issues should be spared full investigation and ensuring all doctors have access to mental health support - like the BMA’s Doctors-for-Doctors which is backed by the GMC.

And this came after Pulse has published a series of articles about the pressure that GMC procedures put on vulnerable doctors, including a report that found that 28 doctors had died by suicide while under investigation and that 13 additional doctors died while the regulator contemplated action.

Another study has shown that complaints against doctors ‘may do more overall harm than good'.

Readers' comments (28)

  • If there is no GMC, doctors mental health will improve a lot. No need for counselling or any crocodile tears.

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  • I see a potentially HUGE problem here. If the GMC 'investigate' (but then feel they have to 'shop' all doctors that declare themselves to be stressed/ noticing they are making mistakes /experiencing suicidal ideation) they simply won't be getting the data they need for their investigation, because no practising doctor will admit to any of these symptoms or problems for fear that they will be inviting their controlling body to strike them off.

    Any investigation like this has to have a cast-iron, legally sound promise attached that under NO circumstances will the GMC use this data for any purpose other than surveying doctors' mental health. Either that, or it has to be totally anonymous -- but even so, it's all too easy to let slip details about oneself that would allow a shrewd investigator to find out who the declaring doctor was.)

    And if they don't attach this promise, then they might as well say goodbye to the survey because without a shadow of doubt it will not reflect the real state of play in clinicians' mental states.

    The GMC will undoubtedly respond by saying that they have an overall duty to deal with any situation which is potentially dangerous to patients, and if this situation arose, then they would have to break their word and investigate. Well then, before even starting their survey, they GMC need to weigh up the relative risks of (1) breaking their promise and identifying a few doctors who might be teetering on the edge of possibly doing something that will make them a risk to a few patients (2)not breaking their word and as a result being able to identify and start to deal with the much bigger problem of discovering the breadth of doctor stress and learning how to prevent damage to patients from it in the future -- and I suspect this cohort of patients potentially at risk from their doctors will be much bigger than than the cohort identified/ damage prevented in No 1.

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  • And who’s going to take responsibility for the mental health and well-being of us doctors? It certainly won’t be the DOH. Since we are blamed for everything then it must be our fault. The attitude of the DOH and GMC seems to be “play by our ever changing rules or wither and die” which is exactly what is happening to us!

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  • I have no confidence in the GMC.

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  • Well done Charlie. You have conjured up some more high paid jollies for your mates in King's Fund et al. Suppose those of us on front line will be paying for them and all?

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  • Sorry, very sorry, to keep on repeating myself but we have a regulator for the GMC. It’s called the PSA. And why are they so silent on this tangle of inconsistency and overt incompetence?
    Why doesn’t Pulse ask Harry Cayton (CEO) or George Jenkins (Chair) to state their position? Will they have an inquiry? What sanctions are available to them, in order to get the GMC back on track?
    This whole episode is a emblematic of the decline in the profession - very, very sad and can only add volume to the tsunami exodus of doctors from the profession.

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  • From the PSA website: -
    "We assess the performance of the regulators against our Standards of Good Regulation. We also invite people to share their experiences of the regulators with us and we take that information into account.”

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  • " Standard 8: All fitness to practise decisions made at the initial and final stages of the process are well reasoned, consistent, protect the public and maintain confidence in the profession.”

    I don’t think so, Charlie.

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  • Why would GMC be interested in my mental health? To assess how much battering I can take from it?

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  • Vinci Ho

    He said: 'I believe that the GMC has a locus to think about and care about the mental health and wellbeing of the wider doctor population. It’s not just about doctors going through our processes‘

    That is typical response from an establishment. Simply, the hidden message is ‘there is really nothing wrong with the FTP procedures . Hence , not a fault from GMC. But it could only mean there were many doctors out there with mental problems instead .’
    This is the kind of integrity we can expect from the chief executive from GMC, hah?

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