Sexual assault allegations against doctors are still unusual but the number of cases is increasing, according to the Medical Defence Union (MDU).
There were 20 allegations of sexual assault against MDU members in 2013, compared with 12 allegations in 2003. In total there were 167 cases of doctors being accused of sexual assault over the 11 year period, with the majority of doctors being cleared after investigation.
The MDU is reminding doctors of the importance of good communication with patients, particularly during examinations the patient may think are intimate, to avoid misunderstandings and distress for patients and GPs.
Dr Beverley Ward, MDU medico-legal adviser, said: ‘Allegations of sexual assault against doctors are increasing although overall the number of cases remains very small – averaging around 15 cases per year in our experience.
‘While in the vast majority of cases the doctor is cleared of any wrong doing, the investigations into the incident can be prolonged, damaging for the doctor’s career, and distressing for all involved. If the media pick up on the story it can be very upsetting as even if the doctor is later cleared, he may feel his reputation has been tainted. ‘
To avoid these misunderstandings while examining patients, the MDU states:
- Follow the GMC’s advice to doctors who need to perform intimate examinations and be aware of any local policies such as on offering a chaperone.
- Ensure the patient knows what is involved in the examination when getting their consent.
- Be aware that some patients may consider routine touching or even being close to them (such as performing ophthalmoscopy in a darkened room) as intimate and requiring a chaperone.
- Give patients privacy to dress and undress and avoid any light hearted or personal comments.
- Stop the examination if the patient asks you to, eg if they are experiencing discomfort.
- Keep records of the discussion with the patient, why the examination was clinically indicated, that a chaperone was offered and whether the patient accepted or declined.