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GPs should limit suicide information they give to patients, says GMC

The GMC is set to publish new guidance aimed at fitness to practise decision-makers on how totreat complaints and information about doctors who are alleged to have helped patients commit suicide.

The new guidance, to be released later this year, says that when considering an allegation of a doctor ‘encouraging or assisting suicide’, assessors should consider whether there is a ‘realistic prospect of establishing that a doctor’s fitness to practise is impaired to a degree justifying action on their registration.’

Assessors are advised to consider the ‘intensity of the encouragement or assistance, whether it was persistent, active or instrumental or minor or peripheral,’ the guidance states.

It also says doctors should limit the information they give to patients to an explanation that it is a criminal offence for them to encourage or assist a person to commit or attempt suicide.

The new guidance, which was consulted on earlier this year, has been developed in response to the case of a disabled man, known as ‘AM’, who last year brought a case against the GMC, the director of Public Prosecutions, and the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

He argued none of the organisations were sufficiently clear about the criteria they would use to assess whether to bring a prosecution or take action on a health professional’s registration if they were to help him to understand the options he had to end his life.

Following discussions with AM’s solicitors the GMC agreed to develop guidance for case examiners and the Investigation Committee.

The GMC said the guidance will also be available for doctors to use as ‘a guide to the boundaries of acceptable practice in this difficult area.’