A trainee’s ‘written reflections’ on an incident in their training development portfolio was used against them in a legal case, which GP leaders have said illustrates the medico-legal ‘minefield’ that GPs are having to operate in.
Health Education England bosses in London and the South East have warned that a recent legal challenge saw a trainee release their reflections – a vital part of a trainee’s portfolio – which ‘was subsequently used against the trainee in court’.
But in a letter to postgraduate deans and training supervisors, HEE said trainees should continue to make particular note of cases where ‘things do not go well’.
It highlights that for trainees the reflection process is exactly the same as for GP appraisal, and that these should avoid patient-identifiable information and focus on the positive lessons learned.
GP leaders warned that GPs need to take all precautions to not incriminate themselves
The letter from HEE, which was shared by doctor and medical educator Dan Furmedge on Twitter, said: ‘Recently, a trainee released a written reflection to a legal agency, when requested, which was subsequently used as evidence against the trainee in court. This has resulted in questions about whether trainees should still provide reflection about incidents in their portfolios.
‘Health Education England in London and the South East is clear that all doctors have to provide written reflections for their ARCP and appraisal, and so doctors in training must continue to write reflections, especially when there are things that do not go well.’
GP trainers have said they are concerned this could have a knock-on impact on their relationship with trainees.
Dr Peter Holden, a former GPC negotiator and a GP in Derbyshire, said: ‘I do think some of our colleagues are a little naïve and should be taking legal advice before they do things. And the problem is there’s a whole generation of doctors whose training is incomplete, they’ve not been given enough medio-legal training to at least recognise a medico-legal minefield when they see it.
‘When you get into legal territory, all is fair in love and war and your registration comes before the patient.’
Dr Kamal Sidhu, a GP and trainer in East Durham, told Pulse the move was ‘unprecedented though not surprising’ because appraisal evidence is already used by regulators when investigating GPs.
He added: ‘It is bound to create discomfort for trainees and will potentially limit uninhibited and free reflection, which is vital for learning at this stage. On the other hand, evidence of learning from significant events can also demonstrate that the lessons have been learned.
‘It then befalls on a robust trainee-trainer relationship to have free discussions on significant events without being worried about legal implications.
‘We all make mistakes and an opportunity to be able to reflect and learn will only make us better doctors. I think the regulatory bodies too, have a duty to look at such reflections in the context.’
GPC executive member Dr Dean Marshall said: ‘This is very concerning and I would encourage all doctors to consider exactly what they commit to paper and who might subsequently have access to what is written.
’It’s sad that this is likely to result in less reflection by doctors but if we can’t expect confidentiality then we need to act accordingly.’
A Health Education England spokeperson said: ‘The purpose of the letter is to provide guidance and clarity on what trainees need to be aware of when preparing their reflective notes.’