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Case study: Doctor’s alcohol dependency leads to a letter from the GMC

Post date: 26/06/2023 | Time to read article: 2 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 27/06/2023

Dr Ellen Walcott, a Consultant Geriatrician from Bristol*, was involved in a road traffic accident after driving under the influence of alcohol.

Dr Ellen Walcott contacted Medical Protection for support after being involved in a road traffic accident. She was breathalysed at the scene of the accident and found to be over the limit.

The police decided to charge Dr Walcott with driving under the influence of alcohol, and subsequently had to to inform the General Medical Council (GMC) in accordance with the professional obligations recorded in paragraph 75 of Good Medical Practice.

The GMC then wrote to Dr Walcott to let her know that they had opened an investigation against her.


What happened next?

Dr Walcott rang Medical Protection’s advice line, and. a specially designated Medicolegal Consultant (MLC) arranged to meet with her and discuss what she could expect from the GMC process.

During this initial meeting, Dr Walcott mentioned she had been experiencing low moods following some difficult times at home, and she had been drinking more than usual as a result.


How Medical Protection helped

The MLC talked her through the support available to her at the time and advised her that it was likely the GMC would approach the case as a health concern in the absence of any other issues.


Dr Walcott was invited to attend two health assessments with  independent psychiatrists as instructed by the GMC. The MLC discussed what these would involve and advised that she would likely need to provide a sample for alcohol testing (and possibly other substances). The MLC suggested that Dr Walcott should consider abstaining from alcohol during this process. 

They also encouraged her to contact her own GP and occupational health for support during her recovery journey, as  taking constructive steps to address her health concerns would help the GMC’s decision in responding to the issue. 


How did it end?

Dr Walcott’s health assessments, the GMC wrote to her proposing several actions, Which were then agreed upon.

She was assigned a medical supervisor and required to partake in regular hair testing, which is often a requirement of ongoing monitoring for doctors with addiction problems.

Dr Walcott was understandably concerned about the impact this may have on her reputation and career, but was quickly reassured by the experts at Medical Protection that the health-related sections of the investigation would not be published by the GMC.

Medical Protection supported Dr Walcott throughout the entire GMC process, and after 18 months follow up actions following the investigation were ended.


Take aways

As well as offering NHS consultants medicolegal advice and expertise, Medical Protection can provide career guidance and support on how best to navigate investigations and monitoring that members fear could cause reputational damage or distress. Throughout this case, Dr Walcott also had access to Medical Protection’s free and independent counselling service to help with the stress of the situation.


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*Names and locations have been changed to protect member confidentiality.


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