Cookie policy notice

By continuing to use this site you agree to our cookies policy below:
Since 26 May 2011, the law now states that cookies on websites can ony be used with your specific consent. Cookies allow us to ensure that you enjoy the best browsing experience.

This site is intended for health professionals only

At the heart of general practice since 1960

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.’

 

Readers' comments (8)

  • In the words of Mrs Brown:

    ' Feck 'em both especially the GMC'

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I think we have got enough on our plate as it is... does the GMC really think we're going to fall for this crap!!! The guidance is so non-specific, all it takes is for this "Doctor-Patient" relationship to break down and for the patient to complain to the GMC and the doctor is struck off!!!!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Totally agree with the above.It looks like the GMC is trying to expand its coffers through some underhand shenanigans.Perhaps there aren't enough incompetent doctors out there to line it's pockets so now it wants to add "sex-crazed monsters" to the hunt.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • The GMC are more likely to recover legal costs with these proceedings (i.e. they have a disgruntled witness) than if they have to prove incompetence.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Hazel Drury

    Good grief! With the hours we work who has the time or energy for this sort of thing anyway???

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Why Hazel, maybe you need to change to a different GP? :)

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • This comment has been deleted

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • This nonsense cannot be called guidance. It sounds like a Monty Python sketch with old buffers tweaking nuanced prejudice. Let people have adult private lives with non registered partners. The only rule beyond that is not to exploit material obtained professionally to influence a relationship with an ex patient.
    If Bill Clinton was a GP and Monica was a practice nurse.....hmmm

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say