The RCGP is facing a potential legal challenge by two senior GP members who want it to end its opposition to assisted dying.
The threat of action comes as the RCGP council decided in February this year to maintain its opposition despite a major member survey noting a significant reduction in support for the stance – from 77% in 2013 to just 47%.
The survey showed that 40% would support a change in stance to support assisted dying ‘providing there is a regulatory framework and appropriate safeguarding’, while a further 11% wanted the RCGP to take a neutral stance going forward.
At the time, the RCGP said the survey did not support a change to its existing position.
But in a legal letter sent today NHS Tower Hamlets CCG chair Professor Sir Sam Everington and Professor Aneez Esmail, professor of general practice at the University of Manchester, said that ‘by continuing to support the current prohibition on assisted dying as a result of a flawed and unlawful decision making process, the College is failing in its obligations to properly represent the views of its members’.
The letter, issued by Bindmans LLP on behalf of the two claimants, argued that the decision taken by the RCGP council was ‘irrational, failed to take into account relevant factors and took into account irrelevant factors’.
It added that the RCGP should treat the letter as a ‘formal request for an immediate and thorough reconsideration of the position’.
Commenting on the legal action, Professor Esmail said: ‘The RCGP Council’s decision to remain opposed to assisted dying goes against the views of its members and goes against the entire purpose of asking their members at all.
‘The survey was intended to find out if RCGP members had changed their views since 2013 and there is undeniable evidence that they had.
‘Those who backed the College’s position dropped by almost half, alongside an eight-fold increase in those who wanted the College to support a change in the law. If that doesn’t represent a shift in views, what on earth would?’
According to Professor Esmail, the claimants have been ‘stonewalled at every turn’ when trying to raise the issue with RCGP council members, leaving them ‘with no alternative but to seek a legal resolution’.
Sir Sam said: ‘All of us in general practice face the most challenging times we have ever known and we need more openness and accountability from our representative body.
‘It is imperative that the leadership at the RCGP gets its house in order, listens to the voices of its members and revisits this undemocratic decision. GPs deserve better than a defensive, opaque establishment that protects a harmful status quo at all costs and without justification.’
RCGP chair Professor Martin Marshall said: ‘We are very disappointed to hear of this action, especially as we were transparent about our methodology and decision-making processes from the outset of the consultation.
‘This was the largest consultation on an issue of public policy that the College has conducted, both in terms of response rate and volume of respondents. It was carried out independently by a renowned research company and the results are public.
‘We are also concerned about the timing of this action, in the midst of a global health emergency when the College is working flat out to support GPs who are delivering patient care in the most difficult of circumstances.’
A poll of 1,000 GPs by medeConnect, published today, showed 35% want RCGP to continue to oppose assisted dying, while 38% want a neutral stance and 20% a positive stance.
It comes as the BMA, which also opposes assisted dying, launched a its first-ever survey of members on the topic earlier this year.