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Q&A: Probity and self-treatment

What are the issues involved when a GP submits a blood sample under a false name?

Doctors raising concerns about the confidentiality of submitting their own samples, following cases where GPs had been caught doing blood tests under false names, demonstrate the complexity of self-treatment.

There are good reasons why you should not use false details when submitting samples - whether your own, or anyone else’s - and should avoid treating yourself and family members. These include the difficulty in maintaining objectivity, and the fact that it could cause problems with the partners of the practice, and call into question your probity.  

Samples submitted in false names also create inappropriate or inaccurate medical records that may give rise to real difficulties and confusion for colleagues, other health professionals, and patients who may have similar names.

What are the rules around self-treatment?

GMC guidance in respect of probity is clear – doctors must be honest and trustworthy, and act with integrity. Good Medical Practice also states that, ‘Wherever possible, you should avoid providing medical care to anyone with whom you have a close personal relationship’ (para 5).

You should make sure you are registered with a GP, and take their advice, rather than making your own decisions about your diagnosis or treatment, and it would be unwise to submit your own samples.

Should GPs register with a practice they don’t work at?

A GP in the same practice would have to think very carefully before agreeing to register a colleague who worked with them, as it could well be suggested that they have a “close personal relationship” with their colleagues, and would fall foul of the GMC guidance quoted above.

It would be best from a practical point of view, and especially if you have worries about people you work with inadvertently seeing your results, to register with another practice. In some cases this may be difficult if you work in a small, or isolated area. 

Doctors and health professionals have the same entitlement to confidentiality as anyone else, protected through common law, statutory provisions, and the requirements of the GMC.

Dr Nick Clements is the head of medical services at the Medical Protection Society