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Doctors need resilience training like soldiers in Afghanistan, GMC head says

Doctors should expect to face a GMC investigation during their career as an ‘occupational hazard’ and build up resilience to deal with it similar to soldiers in Afghanistan, senior GMC executives have said.

Responding to MPs’ questioning in a House of Commons health committee hearing today, the GMC’s new chair Professor Terence Stephenson said that doctors seeing tens of thousands of patients during a 30-year career would get complaints and should be prepared for this while in medical training.

At the same meeting, chief executive Niall Dickson said that the plan for the future was for the GMC to have an ‘ongoing relationship’ with doctors regarding professionalism and driving up professional standards.

The comments come as GMC announced it will introduce ‘emotional resilience’ training and a national support service for doctors after an internal review found that 28 doctors committed suicide while under investigation by the regulator.

At today’s meeting in Parliament, Labour MP Valerie Vaz asked Professor Stephenson whether young graduates entering the profession should ‘accept that they may be investigated’ and ‘accept that as something they may have to deal with’.

Professor Stephenson replied: ‘I’ve personally been investigated twice by the GMC so I think doctors recognise it is an occupational hazard. Having complaints against you if you have a career of 30 years, seeing 25-30,000 patients over the course of your career, it happens. I think your comment about resilience training is very well taken.

‘I think, I’m struck by how much the military invests in resilience training, and from talking to them I gather they don’t wait until they arrive in Helmand Province, they start in recruitment and training. And I think that is something we could think about exploring, and what I think you are getting at, is building in resilience training when people are medical students and young trainees rather than waiting, perhaps as in my case, until you’ve been reported or had a complaint and then trying to develop that resilience, so I think that point is well made.’

Speaking at the same hearing, GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said the plan for the future was to be a more permanent feature in doctors’ practicing life.

He said: ‘Most doctors think of us as just [about] fitness to practise. But as you know our responsibility since then has gone beyond that.’

In the longer term, he said, the strategy would be to have ‘an ongoing relationship’ with doctors.

He said: ‘We still have to do the fitness-to-practise work, it is still very important, but actually we want to have our relationship with the profession as a rather different one, not least because of revalidation, as an ongoing relationship. It is not “hello GMC, I have not got my card and I’ll see you when I die, and I’ll try and keep below the radar”.

‘We need to have an ongoing relationship with you about professionalism, about how we drive up professional standards, about giving us the assurance that you are competent and fit to practice, and I think that makes the relationship between regulator and registree different. And I think we are only in the early stages of starting to develop that.’

The GMC report on suicides, released just before Christmas, said that medical graduates should receive emotional resilience training to prepare themselves for a career in medicine and recommended the appointment of a senior medical officer in charge of overseeing health cases and establishing a culture where doctors feel they are treated as ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

Related images

  • GMC plaque  Ralph Hodgson - online

Readers' comments (155)

  • 'if you have a career of 30 years, seeing 25-30,000 patients over the course of your career '

    Wow! Out of touch.
    I've seen 44 today. I have about 50 results and the same amount of letters in my tray, all a banana skin of medicolegal risk. I estimate at least 10k phone and face to face consultations/year, let alone all the other work completed.
    I'm resilient enough to be able to do this year in year out but if they want to drive up professional standards they need to drive down the numbers we see and deal with. But as I found out to my cost one slip up and it mattered not one jot the circumstance of my failure or the number of people seen. Screwed!

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  • It is not about receiving a complaint, but how the GMC and Ombudsman follow that up, the way they treat us, the delays, the expectations bearing in mind the high volumes we have to manage, their decisions frequently based on one non-clinical individual's opinion or that of the media....

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  • Yes in GP land 300,000 consults over 30 years with multiple problems per consultation. Each consultation on average 10 minutes, plus paper work...visits..meetings..

    Secondary care, one problem over 15 mins to 1 hour per consult

    Yet the GMC still expects the same standards in primary care as existing in secondary care

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  • Resilience training in the military. Remind me of the suicide rate of ex service personnel?

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  • The GMCs attitude to and (lack ) of understanding of mental health, is unacceptable in a civilised society.

    Discuss

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  • We want the assurance that you are competent and fit to assess that we are fit to practice.

    I am now posting anonymously-losing bottle! I suppose I need resilience training!

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  • It feels like we are in a war zone,is it the medical covenant.If it is like the military covenant HMG has woefully failed in honouring that.

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  • Well, it certainly is an occupational hazard, but resilience training alone won't help. We need an NHS that is kinder and more supportive of its frontline workers and a GMC that is more sensitive about the awful stress a GMC investigation puts on doctors. 'Emotional resilience' is becoming another buzzword to throw at the problem without analysing what we mean or what we would do about it.

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  • so the GMC's answer to multiple suicides is "toughen up" ?

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  • "I think, I’m struck by how much the military invests in resilience training, and from talking to them I gather they don’t wait until they arrive in Helmand Province, they start in recruitment and training. And I think that is something we could think about exploring"

    I don't think that most 18 year olds who go into medicine buy into the idea that their future working lives should be like military personnel going to Helmund.

    Neither do I. If this is what the government think medicine should be like, how many if us are prepared to take these risks with our own health and sanity.

    The armed forces have my genuine respect but I really don't want to be in the same position.

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