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GPs should not have to disclose previous convictions to patients

The Daily Mail recently revealed that more than 1,000 doctors who are registered and licensed to practice have criminal convictions. These range from sexual offences such as possession of indecent pictures of children, to drink driving and fraud.

Campaigning group The Informed Parent reportedly reacted ‘furiously’ saying that the public has a right to know about the previous convictions of their doctors. Patient Concern agreed and has urged the Government to make it a legal obligation for the GMC to advise patients if a doctor who has a license to practice has been convicted of any crime which may be ‘a cause for concern’.

We roundly disagree: GPs are already properly regulated by the GMC who invariably correctly discharges its statutory duty to protect the public. There is no cause for alarm and no need for any naming and shaming. Proposals such as this confuse the legitimate public interest (in knowing that your GP is safe and fit to practise) with matters that the public have a prurient interest in.

The GMC has robust systems in place to gather data about doctors that come into contact with the criminal justice system. GPs themselves have a duty to disclose convictions and cautions to their regulator and the police have a duty to disclose arrests, caution and convictions to the GMC. The GMC will also seek disclosure via the courts if necessary to obtain all relevant information about an offence.

Furthermore the protection of patients lies at the heart of the GMC and Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) investigation process. The allegation levelled against the GMC, that it ‘supports its own’ and ‘covers up’ for doctors who have convictions, is dangerously misleading. GPs with convictions and cautions are only permitted to remain registered with the GMC after close scrutiny is applied to their practice and they are deemed ‘fit to practise’. And the process is already transparent – fitness-to-practise hearings are usually held in public, or if a warning is to be imposed such are made visible to patients and employers alike via the GMC website.

Whilst the figure of 1,000 practising doctors with convictions is doubtlessly headline-grabbing, it belies the context of the statistics. In December 2016, 193,532 doctors held full GMC registration with a licence to practise and another 7,903 had provisional registration (also with a licence to practise). Therefore the percentage of doctors with convictions represents a tiny 0.5% of the overall number of doctors who are registered and licensed to practise.

GPs should not be phased by this attack on their profession as it is already well regulated in our opinion.

Julie Norris (partner) and Shannett Thompson (senior associate) work at law firm Kingsley Napley LLP. Both specialise in defending doctors subject to investigation by the GMC

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