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Set personal beliefs aside when advising patients, GMC rules

By Nigel Praities

GPs will be required to provide a ‘clear pathway for patients' on issues such as abortion even where this conflicts with their ethical beliefs, after ‘considerable' changes to GMC guidance.

The final guidance on doctors' personal beliefs has undergone a series of changes from the draft, which was dismissed by the BMA as a ‘licence to discriminate' against patients on procedures such as abortion.

The report, entitled Personal Beliefs and Medical Practice, now stresses doctors ‘should not unfairly discriminate' against patients and should refer them to another doctor if necessary.

Controversial ethical guidance from the GMC on doctors' personal beliefs has been given the backing of the BMA after a major re-write.

‘If carrying out a particular procedure or giving advice that conflicts with your religious or moral beliefs, and this conflict might affect the treatment or advice that you provide, you must explain this to the patient and tell them they have a right to see another doctor,' reads the guidelines.

Other recommendations include being ‘open with patients' in person and in practice leaflets about procedures a doctor has chosen not to provide because of a conscious objection.

Dr Tony Calland, chair of the BMA medical ethics committee, said the guidance had ‘changed considerably' as a result of BMA objections and now made it clear that doctors had to provide a ‘clear pathway for patients' even if it conflicted with their personal beliefs.

‘They have listened to what we have said and we are now fully supportive of the guidance,' he said.

Dr Emma Cuzner, a medico-legal adviser at the Medical Defence Union, said the new guidance made it clearer what the responsibilities of doctors are when faced with an ethical dilemma.

‘Even if you have a conscious objection to filling in something like the abortion form, it shouldn't mean that you can refuse to do the surrounding care,' she said.

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