In December 2014 the GMC published a report about cases where doctors committed suicide while undergoing GMC fitness to practise procedures. Out of the 28 doctors, two were in their foundation years.
Many of the doctors had known mental health problems or drug and alcohol dependence. However, there was an acknowledgement that more must be done in all cases to support doctors.
The report said that any doctor referred to the GMC should be considered to be vulnerable and therefore supported and assisted in a compassionate manner. The report further acknowledged that given the stress of the investigation process, any doctor could develop mental health problems, or an addiction habit, as the nature of the investigation process is highly stressful.
While saddened by the report’s findings, I was not entirely surprised. I see all too often the negative impact GMC investigations have on doctors and while most will be dismissed without further action the damage of the process cannot be underestimated.
To coincide with the report MPS carried out a survey of 180 members who had been the subject of a GMC investigation in the past five years. Ninety-three percent reported stress and anxiety with 75% stating an impact on their personal life. Many also lost confidence and this in itself can lead to behaviours not conducive to good clinical practice. More than a quarter considered exiting the profession with one in ten changing their role or leaving.
It is important that any new doctor struggling to cope, whether under GMC investigation or not, should seek help and support as soon as possible from their deanery, educational supervisor, occupational health representative and/or GP. MPS has a confidential counselling service for members with open cases and the BMA’s Doctors for Doctors provides psychological support to all. The recommendation in the GMC report for a national support service is welcomed, as is the need to treat a doctor as ‘innocent until proven guilty’ – surely a fundamental principle of our justice system.
Access Doctors who commit suicide
while under GMC fitness to practise investigation at www.gmc-uk.org.