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Doctors need resilience training like soldiers in Afghanistan, GMC head says

Doctors should expect to face a GMC investigation during their career as an ‘occupational hazard’ and build up resilience to deal with it similar to soldiers in Afghanistan, senior GMC executives have said.

Responding to MPs’ questioning in a House of Commons health committee hearing today, the GMC’s new chair Professor Terence Stephenson said that doctors seeing tens of thousands of patients during a 30-year career would get complaints and should be prepared for this while in medical training.

At the same meeting, chief executive Niall Dickson said that the plan for the future was for the GMC to have an ‘ongoing relationship’ with doctors regarding professionalism and driving up professional standards.

The comments come as GMC announced it will introduce ‘emotional resilience’ training and a national support service for doctors after an internal review found that 28 doctors committed suicide while under investigation by the regulator.

At today’s meeting in Parliament, Labour MP Valerie Vaz asked Professor Stephenson whether young graduates entering the profession should ‘accept that they may be investigated’ and ‘accept that as something they may have to deal with’.

Professor Stephenson replied: ‘I’ve personally been investigated twice by the GMC so I think doctors recognise it is an occupational hazard. Having complaints against you if you have a career of 30 years, seeing 25-30,000 patients over the course of your career, it happens. I think your comment about resilience training is very well taken.

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‘I think, I’m struck by how much the military invests in resilience training, and from talking to them I gather they don’t wait until they arrive in Helmand Province, they start in recruitment and training. And I think that is something we could think about exploring, and what I think you are getting at, is building in resilience training when people are medical students and young trainees rather than waiting, perhaps as in my case, until you’ve been reported or had a complaint and then trying to develop that resilience, so I think that point is well made.’

Speaking at the same hearing, GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said the plan for the future was to be a more permanent feature in doctors’ practicing life.

He said: ‘Most doctors think of us as just [about] fitness to practise. But as you know our responsibility since then has gone beyond that.’

In the longer term, he said, the strategy would be to have ‘an ongoing relationship’ with doctors.

He said: ‘We still have to do the fitness-to-practise work, it is still very important, but actually we want to have our relationship with the profession as a rather different one, not least because of revalidation, as an ongoing relationship. It is not “hello GMC, I have not got my card and I’ll see you when I die, and I’ll try and keep below the radar”.

‘We need to have an ongoing relationship with you about professionalism, about how we drive up professional standards, about giving us the assurance that you are competent and fit to practice, and I think that makes the relationship between regulator and registree different. And I think we are only in the early stages of starting to develop that.’

The GMC report on suicides, released just before Christmas, said that medical graduates should receive emotional resilience training to prepare themselves for a career in medicine and recommended the appointment of a senior medical officer in charge of overseeing health cases and establishing a culture where doctors feel they are treated as ‘innocent until proven guilty’.