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GMC to continue to fund support service for doctors under investigation

The GMC will continue to fund a support service for doctors undergoing fitness-to-practise investigations run by the BMA for at least another a year after a pilot found users of the initiative ‘derived real benefits.’  

The service – run by the BMA’s Doctors for Doctors unit – was set up in 2012 and offers doctors two days of face-to-face support at a fitness-to-practise hearing, and also six hours telephone support throughout an investigation.

After the pilot ended last month, a report by the GMC – Implementing the Doctor Support Service – recommended that the service should be continued, but also suggested that it strives to deliver an ‘enhanced level of service’ for doctors.

The move to continue the service throughout 2015 comes as the GMC recently announced it will introduce ‘emotional resilience’ training and an additonal national support service for doctors after an internal review found that 28 doctors committed suicide while under investigation by the regulator.

Last week, the regulator’s chair Professor Terence Stephenson told a House of Commons health committee hearing that doctors should expect to face a GMC investigation during their career as an ‘occupational hazard’ and build up resilience to deal with it similar to soldiers in Afghanistan.

The BMA’s service does not offer medical or legal advice but does provide the doctor under investigation with someone who understands the process but is not connected to the investigation.

The GMC report states: ‘From the feedback it is clear that doctors who have used the service have derived real benefit from it. Those doctors who accessed the service generally agreed that the service was easy to access and use, that the allocated support time was sufficient and that they valued the fact that the supporters themselves were doctors and that there was continuity of access to one supporter throughout the process.

‘Given the overall positive feedback about the service and the conclusions of the evaluation, we suggest that this provides a strong rationale to continue to provide an independent emotional support service for doctors who have an open investigation.’

Chief executive of the GMC Niall Dickson told Pulse: ‘We know that being under GMC investigation can be incredibly stressful. While we have a duty to look at concerns that are raised with us, we also have a duty of care to doctors under investigation. That is why we have been looking at ways to reduce the stress of our procedures, while never losing our focus on protecting patients.

‘There is more to do and we will continue to look at ways to improve our procedures, not least to reduce the time they take. The Doctor Support Service is an important part of that process and it is encouraging that the feedback from doctors who used it has been so positive. Following a successful pilot, we will now be rolling out this service to ensure that more doctors can access confidential and emotional support.’

GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey welcomed the move to extend the doctor support service.

Dr Vautrey added: ‘Providing support to doctors in these very difficult and immensely stressful situations is vital and it’s heartening to see the positive comments about the help the BMA service has provided in the pilot and the recommendation to both continue with this and to extend it.’