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Doctor Foster’s ethics are unworthy of the GP profession

Who could have failed to miss the gripping second series of Dr Foster in recent weeks? The beautiful and glamorous Suranne Jones plays the role of Dr Gemma Foster, GP, who is grappling with a life spiralling out of control, driven by vengeance against her ex-husband and an obsession to fix her crippling relationship with her wayward teenage son. The enthralling plotline has gripped some 9 million viewers.

Such a high-profile drama could have done wonders for the attractiveness of being a GP; who wouldn’t want to be glamorous, live in a beautiful, big house and be lusted after? Sadly, however, the programme has shown us that the BBC prioritises entertainment over accuracy given the flagrant and repeated breaches of ethics committed by the GP protagonist. We would be none too surprised if GPs around the country are somewhat outraged by the representation of the profession.

Had Gemma been a real doctor, there is no doubt that her medical career would be in tatters given her blatant violations of the GMC’s Good Medical Practice guidance – a sexual relationship with a patient, pressuring a colleague into disclosing confidential patient information, kicking someone into the recovery position in a nightclub and breaking into her ex-husband’s home to name but a few concerning issues. Such actions if committed by a GP in the ‘real world’ would have resulted in a very different storyline altogether – with a GMC complaint and scrutiny by the regulator.

Perhaps Gemma’s high-flying career will come crashing down in the next series – but whether the complainant will be her seething ex-husband or humiliated patient-lover remains to be seen. Undoubtedly further drama could be wreaked from her stress at discovering she is to be investigated by the GMC with the final stand-off being her appearance before a Medical Professionals Tribunals Service panel in a highly publicised hearing.

The BBC is unlikely to go there. But there is a serious point to all this. The public expects integrity from their GP. The Good Medical Practice stipulates that doctors are ‘honest and trustworthy and act with integrity and within the law’. It is helpful if TV programmes, even fictional ones, reinforce these aspects of respectable GP role models. After all, our perceptions of professions are, in part, influenced by their portrayal onscreen. It is well known that the hit US drama series, Suits, starring Prince Harry’s belle, Meghan Markle, has inspired troves of youngsters to enter the legal profession, not least for its glamorous depiction of the lives of hotshot corporate lawyers.

It goes without saying that doctors do, of course, get divorced, go to nightclubs and have relationship issues with their children as much as anyone else. GPs are human after all. But most do so without endangering their professional status. So the next time you hear Doctor Foster being discussed by the water cooler or in the waiting room, it may be wise to point out the far-reaching fiction. No one should think a proper GP can get away with Gemma’s behaviour, however alluring she may be.

Shannett Thompson is a senior associate in the regulatory team at Kingsley Napley LLP