Good Medical Practice 2024 on Medical Boundaries and Zero Tolerance to Sexual Harassment

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Photo Credits: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash

The General Medical Council’s Good Medical Practice is a standard for all medical professionals in the UK and focuses on creating a fair, respectful and supportive workplace for all. This year, the guide has been updated and it has a special focus on creating workplaces that have zero tolerance to sexual harassment by doctors. This guide comes at a good time as reports of sexual harassment in the NHS are increasing rapidly.

This guidance has not come into effect yet, but it is expected to be implemented by 30 January 2024.

An Alarming Rate of Sexual Misconduct Over Five Years

This guidance comes at a good time, as earlier this year, The Guardian reported that over 35K incidents of sexual violence and sexual misconduct by patients were recorded in the last five years. These numbers were recorded between 2017-2022 and covered 212 NHS trusts in England, as found by the Guardian and the British Medical Journal.

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However, the scary bit is that researchers believe these numbers are too low considering how many patients were treated. There is believed to be at least 100K cases more that have not been reported, and a considerable amount of these cases would be staff-on-staff sexual misconduct.

With only one NHS trust in England providing dedicated training to prevent sexual harassment, the need for special guidance for doctors is needed now more than ever.

Everyone has a responsibility to themselves and their colleagues – Good Medical Practice 2024

Domain 4 (trust and professionalism) of the guidance covers acting with honesty and integrity which includes:

  1. Not misuing the public’s and patient’s trust as a doctor
  2. Not using your professional position to pursue sexual or improper relationships, and
  3. Not expressing personal beliefs to exploit anyone.

The guidance also covers using verbal and written comments, pictures as well as physical contact.

This has been seen as an important update as it is the first time in 10 years that medical guidance has specially covered misconduct against colleagues (and not just patients). Additionally, the Good Medical Practice guide also covers how to best use social media or advertising services as a medical professional.

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Another interesting aspect of the guide is that it covers providing evidence or being a witness to an improper act. It goes into detail about supporting the victim, reporting an incident, and making sure people come forward with the right information. Managers have been given special instructions to deal with such matters and escalate them as necessary promptly.

What is Good Medical Practice and How is it Used?

It is crucial to remember that Good Medical Practice is not a set of rules but standards that may or may not be applied in your everyday professional life.

The guidance also distinguishes between “you must” and “you should” standards, stating that “you must” refers to standards every medical professional should follow in order to meet their ethical expectations of them. On the other hand, standards that begin with “you should”, may or may not apply to everyone but if it does, it would be ideal to follow them.

Additionally, the guidance does not just provide medical professionals with a set of standards to uphold but also gives them the chance to maintain their license by setting out what they can do to develop their practice. Medical professionals are expected to work with their local clinics to ensure they are maintaining and following appropriate principles, values and standards.

You can find the Good Medical Practice 2024 here.

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