GPs need chaperone policy to protect themselves

GPs should ensure their practice has a chaperoning policy in place as a means to helping to protect doctors from allegations of improper behaviour, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has recommended.

The MDU said that, although chaperones do not provide a doctor with a guarantee of protection against a complaint, they can provide independent evidence of what took place if a patient complains.

It said that while allegations of impropriety during clinical examinations are rare, and findings of guilt are even less common, when allegations do arise it can be ‘very distressing for the doctor’.

The MDU also said a chaperone policy could avoid confusion among staff, for example about when to offer a chaperone, who can act as a chaperone and what to do if a chaperone is refused.

The MDU outlined when and how chaperones should be used. It said:

  • Chaperones should be routinely offered for intimate examinations, such as of the genitalia or breasts.
  • Good communication with patients is the key to avoiding misunderstandings.
  • Doctors should record the consent discussion in the notes along with the identity of the chaperone or if a chaperone was offered but declined.
  • Try to use a chaperone of the same gender as the patient, if possible.
  • Position the chaperone where they can see the patient and how the examination is being conducted.

Dr Emma Cuzner, an MDU medico legal adviser, said: ‘Having a chaperone present can provide reassurance for patients during certain examinations, particularly intimate ones. Chaperones can provide support when undergoing an examination which may be embarrassing or uncomfortable for the patient.

‘It is important that hospital trusts and general practices have clear policies in place covering, for example, when to offer a chaperone, who can act as a chaperone and what to do if a chaperone is refused, and that staff performing clinical examinations are aware of the policy.’

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