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GPs criticise plans for GMC regulation of doctors’ private lives

The GMC is consulting on whether it should regulate doctors' lives ‘outside of medicine', triggering fears among GPs that it is seeking to replicate the ‘intrusive' approach taken by teaching regulators.

GMC officials launched an online poll open to the public earlier on whether it should actively regulate doctors' private lives, as a precursor to including the issue in a full review of the Good Medical Practice guidance being opened next month.

The regulator already has the power to investigate cases where complaints are launched about a doctors' behaviour outside of medicine, where there are fears it could have an impact on their work. But GPs fear the GMC's new consultation signals an appetite to extend its powers.

GPs contacted by Pulse drew parallels with the General Teaching Council's decision to introduce a new Code of conduct in 2009 that triggered rising investigations into teachers' private conduct. The code has been labelled ‘intrusive' by teaching unions and seen teachers investigated for having pictures on Facebook showing them drunk or, in one case, in a bikini.

The GMC's poll is launched on Facebook this month and simply asks: ‘Do you think the GMC should regulate doctors' lives outside medicine?'

Niall Dickson, GMC chief executive, said: 'We do already investigate complaints about a doctor's actions outside work that would have the potential to damage patients' trust in their doctor or in the profession as a whole.'

‘This month we are asking whether the GMC should care about something that a doctor does outside of work, for example if they posted homophobic or racist remarks on a public website.

‘We hope doctors will get involved in the online debate and respond to our formal consultation when it launches next month.'

Dr John Hughes, a GP in Manchester, said: ‘This aspect of GMC control is something that should have passed in to history decades ago. I note the General Teaching Council has been attempting something similar.'

‘Doctors are human beings, prone to behave in a variety of manners, similar to the general spread of the population. Unless their actions in their private lives are illegal or abusing the trust of others as a result of the doctor's position they should not come under GMC scrutiny.'

Dr Una Coales, a GP in Stockwell, south London, said: ‘I do not think the GMC should get more involved in doctors' lives, quite the reverse.'

Dr Philip Fielding, a GP in Cheltenham, said: ‘We should always be aware of the need for high probity whether we be wearing our stethoscopes or not. But the question of regulation sounds heavy handed. Can we not start with the bankers first?'