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Senior GPs taking legal action against RCGP over assisted dying stance

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.


Anonymous 18 September, 2020 3:18 pm

Not being slow to criticise RCGP when necessary, I find myself in the surprising position of regarding this legal action as a colossal waste of time and effort.

47% of members wanting them to oppose it > 40% of members wanting them to support it

The culture this speaks to is one where litigation is the default position if you don’t get your way. In addition, do we really think that at this particular moment in history, assisted dying should be so high up the priority list it warrants legal letters?

Perhaps the eminent members behind the letter could find, you know, some clinical work to do?

Anonymous 18 September, 2020 3:36 pm

Spot on anonymous! What a deplorable action to take by these two “senior GPs”. I too am often critical of the RCGP but on this issue they are right. The two GPs talk about “openness and transparency” and yet look at what we have just been through with the first wave of the pandemic with the situation in care homes and particularly for the elderly and vulnerable!! There was a complete dereliction of duty when it came to this group in society and where is the accountability? What about those blanket requests for DNR decisions? I feel sick thinking about what happened and now to read that two GPS are taking the RCGP to court over assisted dying!? How utterly cold and disgusting this is. We should be advocates for our patients, particularly those most in need and most vulnerable and we should not be encouraging people to end their lives but instead doing everything we can to support them and their families. This mindset will lead to terrible consequences and many elderly people will feel that they are a burden an Bw pressured int ending their lives. It’s horrendous to think that when certain lobbies don’t get their way they resort to legal action to bully the rest of us. One wonders where they have the time for all this and also why they became doctors in the first place? Please stop!!

Anonymous 18 September, 2020 4:36 pm

Not only are RCGP Polls notoriously under subscribed, they statistically grossly under-represent grass root GP views by virtue of the lack of numbers.
Even this medeConnect sample of a 1000 is statistically meaningless, with 38% neutral stance.
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.
GPs have strong religious and cultural views on death and dying.
Lets hope these ‘senior GPs’ bringing this action have considered the above and its not just a vanity project to simply grab headlines yet again.

Anonymous 18 September, 2020 4:40 pm

Have SENIOR GPs got nothing better to fight the RCGP over?
Like our representation in the media?
Like sticking up for the profession?

Deckchairs and titanic come to mind.

Ian Jolly 18 September, 2020 6:35 pm

Passed MRCGP 1992
Resigned 1993
Ceased BMA 1993 as well
Deregistered at aged 54 March 2020
Too many weasels in this “profession”

David Mummery 18 September, 2020 7:53 pm

Sam and Aneez – firstly how on earth do you have time for this in the midst of a pandemic? (How many patients a week are you seeing at the moment? ) Secondly do you really think that this is an appropriate time to do this at the start of a second wave of a global pandemic likely to kill many more frail and elderly ? Don’t you think that the RCGP should be 100% concentrating on supporting those GPs at risk and on the frontline, rather than having to deal with this now? The whole thing smacks of smug arrogance

John Glasspool 18 September, 2020 8:49 pm

I agree with anonymous

John Glasspool 18 September, 2020 8:51 pm

BTW- given the GMC is a nasty rabidly anti-doctor cabal, might some people be worried about their names being public on here?

John Glasspool 18 September, 2020 8:53 pm

BTW- the college is supposedly about education and standard setting. (Don’t laugh!) Pay and rations (Don’t laugh!) is the remit of the BMA.

Peter Davies 18 September, 2020 8:57 pm

I really cannot see the purpose of this legal action which seems needless and unwarranted.

At the current time when we as general practitioners, and the NHS and social and voluntary care system as a whole, have a huge challenge to keep ourselves going so we can deal with the needs of patients- whether with Covid or other illnesses this legal action seems utterly beside the point.

Vinci Ho 19 September, 2020 1:11 am

Most extraordinary to me as a person who has never been a member of the college .
While the timing is egregious, it has also raised the question of what the hell is going on inside the council of RCGP?

‘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.‘
Come on , anyone who has studied history and politics knows that this is not just about assisted dying stance . This is power struggle. Bear in mind , the chair has not been appointed very long( since July last year ) . I think there are many ‘layers’ under this red herring……..time for the rebels ??
Interesting story to follow 😈

Chris Nevill 19 September, 2020 10:11 am

It is high time that GPs and their representative organisations started to move with the flow and opinions of their patients who have clearly wanted a structured system of assisted dying (similar to Holland) for over a decade. (Polling 70% + for over a decade). The parliamentary ridicule where MPs do not reflect the opinions of their constituents but simply continue with their own personal experiences and Outdated opinions Is Also a disgrace !

John Graham Munro 21 September, 2020 12:07 am


Nick FOREMAN 21 September, 2020 4:34 pm

look at me – look at me
Sticking spokes into the college’s wheels at this time – unbelievable.

Stuart Reiss 21 September, 2020 7:35 pm

Senior or senile? What a load of rubbish. Are they good friends of Harold Shipman? And trying to posthumously Exonerate his despicable conduct ?

J Calinas Correia 21 September, 2020 9:05 pm

my ignorance about the politics of college and BMA is extensive.
and so is my disappointment with the quality of the discussion above.

James Cuthbertson 25 September, 2020 12:24 pm

Let’s keep people in constant pain who want to put an end to it all hanging on. There may be practical issues to consider, but ethically it’s a no brainer.