GPs should be careful and ‘remain objective’ when declaring patients fit to participate in extreme events, according to a medical defence organisation.
The Medical Protection Society (MPS) has warned that such requests from patients are high in summer, when activities such as skydives, marathons and swimming challenges are more popular.
Since signing ‘fit to participate’ forms is not contractual and would be considered private work, GPs are not covered by the state-backed indemnity scheme.
As such, the MPS has strongly recommended GPs ensure they have adequate professional protection to cover any instances where the patient may become injured and make a clinical negligence claim for compensation.
The organisation said that compensation claims could be very high so practices should ideally ensure their protection has no limits.
MPS deputy medical director Dr Sarah Townley said GPs can often ‘feel under pressure’ to sign such forms as patients are participating in ‘once in a lifetime events’ and may have raised money for charity.
However, she warned: ‘Sadly, although very rare, when extreme events go wrong the injuries may be serious and the compensation sought if a claim is successful may be high – even into millions of pounds. GPs will struggle to pay this from their own pockets.’
The defence organisation has also advised that protection covers all GPs in the practice, in case ‘a claim against a GP without adequate professional protection is deflected to the practice under vicarious liability or non-delegable duty of care’.
Dr Townley said: ‘Once adequate indemnity is ensured, we would always advise GPs to remain objective when asked to sign fit to participate forms. They should take a detailed history from the patient and review any relevant clinical notes.
‘They should feel confident that they have sufficient knowledge about the patient and the nature of the event, and should avoid undertaking assessments beyond their area of clinical competence.’
She added: ‘Where a patient’s medical history is not straightforward or they are under the care of a specialist, the GP may wish to obtain advice first or refer the patient to a doctor with relevant expertise. The GP should fully explain their actions and any concerns to the patient.’
Last month, the Government invited GPs to respond to a consultation on further extending the pool of professionals who can sign fit notes for the Department of Work and Pensions.
The group was extended out to nurses, occupational therapists, pharmacists and physiotherapists last summer under legislative changes.
And earlier this month, the Government suggested in future it may encourage GPs to refer patients to life coaches and job support schemes instead of signing sick notes.