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GP counselling service should be rolled out nationwide, says new GMC chair

Exclusive The new chair of the GMC has said a confidential counselling service to support GPs should be rolled out nationwide and that the profession has ‘added stress’ compared with other doctors.

In his first major media interview since taking up the post, Professor Terence Stephenson said that he supported the wider rollout of a scheme similar to the Practitioner Health Programme in London and as called for by Pulse in its Battling Burnout campaign.

Professor Stephenson told MPs at a parliamentary hearing earlier this year that doctors should expect to face a GMC investigation during their career as an ‘occupational hazard’ and should build up resilience to deal with it similar to soldiers in Afghanistan.

Professor Stephenson told Pulse that complaints against GPs ‘provide an added stress’ compared with hospital doctors because they work within the same community as their patients ‘every day of their practising lives’.

The comments follow the publication of long awaited independent review, which revealed that 28 doctors died by suicide during an GMC investigation. This was followed by a study by Imperial College London that found complaints procedures ‘may do more overall harm than good in terms of patient care’.

When asked what could be done to support GPs, Professor Stephenson said that a helpline for doctors going through fitness-to-practise investigations commissioned by the GMC had been a ‘success’, but that he would also support a national support service being provided for all doctors, as recommended by the GMC review.

He said: ‘Anyone being investigated by the GMC could speak to a doctor confidentially for emotional support – and could be accompanied to a hearing. It seems to have been a success and we want now to make that service permanent.

‘One of the review’s other recommendations, which we also support although it’s not in our gift to provide, is the Practitioner Health Programme in London, run by… Professor Gerada.’ 

He said the GMC ‘absolutely support’ the principle of rolling it out across the UK, but added ‘we don’t provide health services or pay for health services for doctors’.

He said: ‘[GPs] may not live in that community but they´re in that community every day of their practising lives. 

‘And I can see that that may provide an added pressure than as a hospital doctor where you’re perhaps seeing people referred to you or people who’ve travelled to come to the A&E department that you´re then not meeting them. You´re not meeting them in the supermarket or the bank the next day, so I fully accept that provides an added stress.’

The GMC chair told Pulse that he stands by his comment that doctors should have resilience training like soldiers in Afghanistan, and that ‘we can learn from other disciplines’.

The GMC has said more needs to be done to improve its fitness-to-practise process, and that it fully accepts the recommendations outlined in its internal review - including establishing a culture of innocent until proven guilty and reducing the length of investigations.

Professor Stephenson took over from Professor Sir Peter Rubin as the chair of the GMC at the start of 2015.

Related images

  • Professor Terence Step-330x330-cropped-GMC


Readers' comments (24)

  • Vinci Ho

    Is it fair then to say the NHS landscape is now officially called Afghanistan?

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  • let me guess ... counselling recommendation will be to go salaried ...

    i would be less stressed if we had leadership that represented grassroots and not their own agenda or their political friends' agenda.

    what i want is proper representation with an actual vote on my own future.

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  • interesting how in less than 5 years the biggest changes to the NHS in it's history were pushed through against popular opinion but the GMC needs more time to improve it's process ...

    i look forward to the changes when i retire in 20+ years time.

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  • John Glasspool

    No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the GMC. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.

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  • Una Coales

    No amount of counselling will alleviate the new risks GPs face with covert recording of consultations by patients. http://www.mddus.com/risk-management/risk-alerts/2015/march/covert-recording-of-consultations/

    A GP shared she was covertly audio recorded and a complaint was made as she refused to prescribe antibiotics. If I were her, I would feel violated that the parent did not request permission to record the consultation as we GPs must ask consent if the shoe was on the other foot. Nope, we have no rights. And patients may audio or video record and post online too!

    How do you counsel a GP who was falsely accused of sexual assault for doing an abdominal exam (not an intimate exam)? Or even when the complaint is fabricated? I.e. no record was found of a patient seen that fit the complaint?

    How do you counsel a GP whose medical defence organisation has refused to represent them legally, ie used their discretion?

    Perhaps it is better to deal with the root cause, than offer counselling for a doctor accused of negligence manslaughter for maternal death due to postpartum haemorrhage. My cousin in America almost bled to death from PPH and had multiple blood transfusions, lucky to be alive. Her doctors worked hard to save her life. Doctors cannot be held to perfection when treating medical conditions. Some people do die! We cannot save them all.

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  • The GMC has the most appalling human rights record yet continues to act with impunity. All it would take is for enough of us to have the courage to resign from GMC regulation in August when most certificates come up for renewal. Would anyone support this?

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  • Think we have been battered and smashed about enough and made self-resilient thanks. GMC has blood on their hands - don't try and be a goody two shoes. Just lay of us totally and maybe less will die, yes die.
    Remember GPs are patients too...and patients come first.

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  • Need a proper judicial system not a quasi judicial trial by village elders have a go quango one. Treat doctors with the same rights as anyone else in the country.

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  • Professionals working in the most difficult of circumstances to the benefit of society regulated by a bunch of inept parasitic amateurs.

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  • "...If I were her, I would feel violated that the parent did not request permission to record the consultation as we GPs must ask consent if the shoe was on the other foot. Nope, we have no rights. And patients may audio or video record and post online too! "

    GPs can record what they like in the patient notes and the patient has no right to have any false written recordings (made by GPs) changed.

    Having an actual audio recording should place decent GPs in good stead. If GPs are good at their job, a recording of a consultation should not present any problem for them.

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