GMC relaxes guidance on sex with ex-patients
The GMC have loosened up the guidance on doctors forming romantic relationships with former patients, advising that they may be acceptable if enough time has elapsed since the professional relationship ended.
The regulator says that although they could not specify a length of time after which it would be appropriate to begin a relationship, ‘the more recently a professional relationship has ended, the less likely it is to be appropriate to begin a relationship’.
It also urges doctors to consider the length of time they were treating the patient, when deciding if a romantic relationship is appropriate.
The change in guidance comes in explanatory guidance from an updated version of Good Medical Practice guidance published today and that will come into force on the 22 April.
Previous guidance - released in 2006 - advised that a relationship with a former patient ‘may be inappropriate regardless of how long ago the professional relationship existed’.
A Pulse survey in 2011 found half of GPs believed doctors should be allowed to have a sexual relationship with a former patient if the patient moves to another practice.
But the new guidance, called Maintaining Boundaries , and which GPs will have to prove that they practise in line with as part of their appraisal in the revalidation process, says that a romantic relationship with a former patient may be acceptable after a certain amount of time.
It said: ‘Although it is not possible to specify a length of time after which it is acceptable to pursue a relationship with a former patient, it is reasonable to expect that the more recently a professional relationship has ended, the less likely it is to be appropriate to begin a relationship with the patient.’
It added: ‘A related issue is how long the professional relationship lasted. For example, it is less likely to be problematic pursuing a relationship with a former patient with whom you had a single consultation than with someone you treated over a number of years.’
It reiterated the point made in previous guidance that doctors must not pursue a relationship with a former patient who is still vulnerable, for example as a result of a learning disability or an ongoing serious physical or mental illness.
If a former patient was vulnerable when they were a patient, but is no longer vulnerable, the guidance advises GPs to ensure that ‘the patient’s decisions and actions now are not being influenced by the previous professional relationship between you’.
Dr Peter Swinyard, chairman of the Family Doctors Association, said the guidance was ‘much more appropriate’.
He said: ‘Let’s face it - doctors who practice in rural areas, who meet and fall in love with someone are almost inevitably going to have had a professional relationship with them at some point.
‘Even in an urban area, you might meet them at a gym, in a pub or a bar. You may not be aware they’re on your list and they might not tell you because that’s not what they’re there for.’
He added: ‘The guidance doesn’t put patients at risk. If someone were to seduce one of his/her patient the guidance would take a very dim view of that. If someone used confidential information from when the patient was registered to later form a relationship then I imagine that would be considered unethical too.’