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Practice dilemma: Practice staff smoking dope

Following your practice's summer party, you share a taxi with the receptionist and two district nurses. One of the nurses decides to get dropped off at the receptionist's house, saying they are off to 'smoke dope' together. What should you do? Our legal expert advises.

There is no absolute requirement to volunteer information to the police with the exception of some diverse, unusual matters set out in legislation and professional rules such as the funding of terrorism, revealing the identity of a driver in a road traffic accident or reporting knife and gunshot wounds.

The key issue in this ethical dilemma is whether any public interest disclosure is necessary and to ensure compliance with the GMC's Good Medical Practice stipulation that 'you must protect patients from risk of harm posed by another colleague's conduct, performance or health.'

The fact that the nurse is using an illicit, recreational substance does not per se call for action on your behalf but if this impinges on patient care or you do have concerns about the nurse's health, the GMC indicates that 'you must take appropriate steps without delay, so that the concerns are investigated and patients protected where necessary.'

The requirement is that you must give an honest explanation of your concerns to an appropriate person from your employing or contracting body, and follow their procedures.

Whether this scenario can be interpreted in such a manner is debateable but, when in doubt, it is worth discussing such instances with your medical defence organisation.

George Fernie is a senior medicolegal adviser at the Medical Protection Society

credit: Neeta Lind, Flickr