Advice for GPs returning to work after an injury or illness

How does a period away from work because of illness or injury affect your medical indemnity arrangements? Dr Gordon McDavid from Medical Protection answers a GP's query.

I sustained an injury two weeks ago. I don’t think my injury will impact on my ability to care for my patients, so I want to return to work. Will my indemnity arrangements be affected if I receive a complaint during this time?

At Medical Protection we quite frequently receive calls from doctors requesting advice on their indemnity arrangements when returning to work after an injury or a period of illness. 

It is important to ensure that you are well enough to go back to work if you have had time away due to illness or injury, and to seek advice from appropriate parties when considering when to return. Taking these steps will help to safeguard against any risk an illness or injury may pose to patients. Gaining independent advice will also ensure that the appropriateness and timing of your return to work is correct and that you are supported when you do get back to practice. 

With this in mind, we would always advise a member to consult with their treating physician, GP or occupational health after an injury or illness, if there is any doubt about their fitness to return to work. 

This should be an open dialogue to consider your current health and it should include an assessment of your particular circumstances, the type of work and environment, when it would be appropriate to return to work and any changes that may need to be put in place at work to facilitate your return. If difficulties arise here, you should seek advice from your trade union.

The GMC offers clear and concise guidance within Good Medical Practice. The guidance states:

'If you know or suspect that you have a serious condition that you could pass on to patients, or if your judgement or performance could be affected by a condition or its treatment, you must consult a suitably qualified colleague. You must follow their advice about any changes to your practice they consider necessary. You must not rely on your own assessment of the risk to patients.'

Good Medical Practice further obliges you to be registered with a GP and specifically indicates this should be a GP from outside your family. 

The guidance also states that while you must support colleagues who have problems with their health, patient safety must come first at all times. For that reason, it is important that you do not work when advised against it by medical staff and, in the event that any restrictions are placed on your practice due to your health, the GMC says that 'you must, without delay, inform any other organisations you carry out medical work for and any patients you see independently'.

At Medical Protection, we expect members to act within and abide by their professional obligations. Since occurrence-based indemnity provides protection in relation to matters arising from a period of membership, you should not work if you have told Medical Protection or your medical defence organisation (MDO) that you are not working and have been placed in a retired or deferred category of membership.

In those circumstances, it is important that you reactivate your membership before returning to work in order to access the benefits of membership.

When it comes to considering when the time is right to go back to work after a period of ill health or an injury, we expect members to comply with the above guidance. Provided that you have followed the guidance you will remain entitled to request assistance.

If you are unsure about your membership, you should contact your MDO, to discuss the situation. There are many other sources of support and advice available if you are not feeling well or have had an injury resulting in time off work. For example, you might want to speak to your college or the BMA for specific advice. The BMA provide counselling and a Doctor Advisor service - further information is available here.

For GPs or GP trainees in England, the NHS Practitioner Health Programme may also be able to help - more details here.

  • Dr Gordon McDavid is medicolegal adviser at Medical Protection

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