GPs must not face unfair pressure to apologise, warns GPC

Doctors who have been falsely accused of wrongdoing must not be pressurised into apologising with threats of harsher punishments, GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey has said.

Dr Richard Vautrey: warning over apologies (Photo: JH Lancy)
Dr Richard Vautrey: warning over apologies (Photo: JH Lancy)

Dr Vautrey said it would be wrong to set up a system where doctors who had acted appropriately felt compelled to admit to mistakes and apologise for fear of receiving strict punishments from the GMC.

Although it has scrapped its plans to force doctors who make mistakes to apologise to patients, the GMC has warned that doctors who fail to apologise are likely to face stricter sanctions.

The decision came as the consultation period closed on the GMC’s indicative sanctions guidance, which will advise the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) on how deal with complaints against doctors. The final version of the guidance is due out this summer.

The guidance is expected to add that whether or not an apology has been made should be taken into account by panels when they are deciding on how to sanction doctors.

Doctors must not be undermined

But Dr Vautrey said doctors ‘face difficult decisions every day’ and it was important to provide them with support in these situations.

He said: ‘Each individual situation can be very different – and doctors want to be open and transparent with patients. But what they don’t want is to fear that there is someone looking over their shoulder and waving a big stick at them if they don’t do things in a particular way.

‘Clearly, if a doctor behaves inappropriately in a situation and tries to cover up their mistakes and doesn’t admit them to the patient in an appropriate way, then that’s something that becomes indefensible.

‘But if it’s quite clear that the doctor has done the right thing – and people will recognise they’ve done the right thing – then we shouldn’t be setting up a system that makes them doubt that is the case and the GMC might take a more punitive action towards them.

‘What we want to avoid is doctors feeling that they have to do things because of legal structures or the fear of performance management processes, which then undermines the way that they care for individual patients.’

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