Five doctors died by suicide while under GMC investigation between 2018 and 2020, a report by the regulator has shown.
It is the first report by GMC since they committed to publishing the cause of death of doctors who die while in GMC fitness-to-practise procedures.
The report revealed that 29 doctors died in total while going through an investigation or monitoring during that time period, although the regulator would not clarify how many of these doctors were GPs due to confidentiality reasons.
The report said the GMC recognises that complaints can be ‘a difficult time for everyone involved’, but it seeks views on how to ensure its investigation and monitoring processes are ‘efficient, effective and as supportive as possible at every stage’.
Director of fitness-to-practise (FTP) and general counsel at the GMC Anthony Omo said: ‘Complaints can be extremely distressing for doctors, patients and their families.
‘Although we’ve come a long way in improving how we handle them, we will continue to listen to feedback to identify further improvements that we can make to our processes or how we communicate with doctors.
‘Any death is tragic and when it happens, we undertake a review to ensure we understand and learn any lessons. If any improvements can be made, we move with pace to implement them.’
In response to the report, medical director at Medical Protection Society (MPS) Dr Rob Hendry said: ‘There have been calls from across the profession for the GMC to be more transparent about the number of doctors who die while under investigation, and its reporting of the number of doctor suicides is a welcome step.’
Dr Hendry added that MPS sees the repercussions of investigation processes on doctors’ mental health, family and career ‘day in day out’, and said reform of GMC’s current legal framework is ‘long overdue’.
He said: ‘Fitness to practise investigations often take several months – and sometimes years – to conclude. A hearing itself can last several days if not weeks, and press can attend and report on the case throughout which can create long term reputational damage and a sense of shame for the doctor.
‘Consequently, the whole experience can be traumatic irrespective of the outcome.’
A petition in February 2020 called for the GMC to take responsibility for the wellbeing of GPs under its investigation.
It followed the case of consultant anaesthetist Dr Sridharan Suresh, 50, who died by suicide in May 2018.
A 2015 review, Suicide whilst under the GMC’s fitness-to-practise investigation: Were they preventable?, found that 13 doctors died while GMC ‘failed to act’ on their risk of suicide.
Meanwhile, NHS Practitioner Health hit a new record of GPs coming forward with serious mental illness in September 2021, while the BMA said calls to its helpline were at an ‘all-time high’, with more than triple the number of GPs seeking support in July 2021 compared to pre-pandemic, and double the number in 2020.