One slip gets you in a lot of trouble

Keep It Legal

We all know that we live in an increasingly regulated world and particularly so in the healthcare sector. But have you ever thought about just how many sets of proceedings a doctor may face out of one incident? Dr Tania Francis runs through them and gives tips to avoid them.

You may have examined a patient without a chaperone because a chaperone wasn’t required – but the patient may allege that an intimate examination took place.  

Or you may be accused of fraud because you did some private work while on sick leave from the NHS.  

You may be involved in the care of a patient who sadly dies in circumstances in which your treatment decisions are criticised. What could happen next?

1 A police investigation. You may be invited to attend an interview under caution. In more serious cases, you may be arrested and taken to the police station, and your home and electronic devices searched. If the Crown Pro­secution Services decides to prosecute, you will face a criminal trial.

2 In the meantime, you will be referred to the GMC – probably by the police – and you are under an obligation to self-report if you are charged. The GMC may put its investigation on hold until the criminal investigation has concluded, but in the meantime, you may be referred to a Medical Practitioners Tribunal hearing and subject to interim conditions or even suspension.

3 Your employer, if you have one, may take disciplinary action. If you are a GP, NHS England may take action under the Performers List regulations. If you work in a partnership, your partnership agreement may allow your partners to take action. Your practising privileges may be suspended.

4 If you are a provider of healthcare, the Care Quality Commission may also take an interest.

5 If the allegations relate to the death of a patient, there may be an inquest.


6 And in addition to all of the above, the patient/relatives may bring a civil claim for damages.  

All of these different jurisdictions are separate and the fact that one does not proceed may not prevent the others from going ahead.  

Even if a doctor is acquitted at a criminal trial, the GMC may investigate and proceed with a hearing, because its remit is different, as well as its standard of proof. 

Similarly, even if the GMC proceedings do not result in any action, a claim for damages can be made, because a finding that a doctor’s fitness to practise is not impaired does not mean that they were not negligent.

Tania Francis (right) is a solicitor and a partner at Hempsons, a specialist healthcare law firm. She is also a qualified doctor. She advises doctors, dentists and other healthcare practitioners and providers, specialising in regulatory law and clinical negligence litigation, including cases where there are related criminal proceedings