Inquisition by the GMC

Medico-legal survey

Radical reform to GMC investigations are being urged following new research revealing significant numbers of private doctors are experiencing thoughts of suicide or quitting medicine due to their investigation. 

As Independent Practitioner Today reported last month, three-in-four of 56 independent practitioners who took part said the process had a detrimental impact on their mental health, with 95% citing stress and anxiety. 

A quarter considered leaving medicine, while a third reported experiencing suicidal thoughts during inquiries.

The figures were released by defence body Medical Protection Society (MPS) after it surveyed 197 doctors investigated by the regulator in the last five years. Of those, 56 were private practitioners: private only and private with some NHS.

Here is what they said (private practitioner results only).

1 Do you believe that the GMC investigation impacted on any of the following? (select all that apply)

Health and well-being  64%

Relationship with colleagues   32%

Professional reputation   48%

Professional judgement  25%

Productivity   34%

Personal life   64%

Attendance at work   13%

Stress/anxiety   95%

Concentration   54%

Confidence   61%

Future career prospects  18%

Financial situation   25%

It had no impact    4%

Don’t know     0

Other (free text box)    4%

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2Do you believe there was a detrimental impact on your mental health as a result of the investigation?

Yes   75%

No  21%

Don’t know  4%

3Which of the following did you seek help or support from to help with your mental health concerns? (select all that apply)

Colleagues  40%

My doctor   12%

Counsellor  21%

MPS   29%

GMC     0

BMA     2%

Family or friends  71%

Employer   17%

I felt I had no one to turn to     7%

None of the above     7%

Other (free text box)   12%

4What do you feel impacted on your mental health most during the investigation? (select all that apply)

The length of the investigation  64%

The initial, unexpected notification of

the investigation  64%

Having to give evidence at a hearing  12%

The tone of communications from the

GMC  55%

Associated media coverage on my case  17%

Investigations by other bodies at the same time as the GMC investigation    7%

Concern about professional reputation  71%

Concern about what colleagues may think   52%

Concern about what family/friends may think   50%

Concern about what patients may think  29%

Concern about what my employer may think    57%

Concern about career implications    64%

Attending meetings with or dealing with communications from MPS   24%

Having to deal with communications from the GMC   50%

Don’t know   0

Other   12%

5Did you at any time during the investigation experience suicidal thoughts?

Yes 32%

No   8%

Don’t know   0

6What, if anything, could the GMC have done differently to make the process less stressful? (select all that apply)

More frequent updates on how the investigation is progressing 29%

Less legalistic language in communications –  27%

Improvements in tone of communications   41%

The process being completed more quickly   63%

The process being less legalistic/adversarial –  48%

No media attendance at hearings    7%

None of the above   9%

Other   9%

NA   5%

7Who do you believe should offer more support when facing an investigation? (select all that apply)

GMC  57%

Medical Protection Society 38%

BMA  18%

My employer  29%

Colleagues   16%

Family and friends 13%

Other (free text box)  20%

8How did the overall experience affect your future career plans?

It made no impact on my career plans and I remained positive about the future 18%

I learned from the experience and looked forward to continuing my career 27%

I considered leaving the profession 27%

I changed my role   2%

I left the profession   2%

None of the above   9%

Other 16%

Comments from participants

‘I I did feel my life was not worth living after how much I had dedicated to being a doctor. To now have it all called in question and jeopardised was devastating.’ 

‘Occasional thoughts that if I was no longer here, this would all go away.’ 

‘I was on antidepressants, but suicidal thoughts were impossible to keep out.’

‘From the first notification by the GMC of an investigation till after the tribunal, I had regular suicidal thoughts.’ 

‘Despite three years’ psychotherapy, I feel permanently damaged and half the person I once was: my confidence is gone, I am afraid of my own shadow.’

‘The only effect of the GMC investigation was to make me re-evaluate my relationship with medicine as a whole. I previously lived to work, but now I look forward to the time I leave the profession and can request voluntary erasure.’ 

‘Every day greeted me with a wave of despair. Every email ping made me jump.’

‘I contacted the GMC after the result of the investigation happened. It said I had nothing to answer to – after about 18 months. They said that support was no longer covered. This actually was the time I needed support most, as I was so angry with what had happened.’

‘Even in the end, the tone of the outcome stated something along the lines of not enough evidence rather than innocent. It remains a feeling of “We are waiting to get you next time”.’

‘There is very little communication from GMC until the end of the investigation and, even then, there is no offer of support or understanding that their process may be quite detrimental to the well-being of the doctor.’

‘It took a lot of counselling to come to terms with this, even though no fault was found. The language in their comms is abysmal: “We didn’t get you this time, but we are watching you”.’

‘The letter made me feel guilty and that I was not good enough to be a doctor even before I had been listened to or investigated. Wish the process was more open-minded in its approach rather than starting with the premise that you are not fit to practise.’ 

‘In my case, the investigation was entirely unjustified – there was no wrongdoing or risk to patients and the complaint was very clearly malicious. Better triage of trivial, vexatious or malicious complaints would be an easy improvement for the GMC.’ 

‘What reassurance can I get that I will not be put through this nightmare repeatedly every time someone decides to consult Dr Google and disagree with my clinical judgements made in best interests?’

‘The GMC is, at present, acting as a well-meaning but poorly informed vehicle for disappointed patients to vent their anger on a medical expert, since the complaint alone causes real damage even when groundless.’

‘The complaint against me was bizarre but was taken as gospel by the GMC. My career of 20 years and thousands of patient encounters felt reduced to, and threatened by, intense scrutiny of every second of a five- to ten-minute encounter.’

‘I have never been part of a more one-sided and biased process. It made me very keen to leave the profession and I now can’t wait to retire.’

‘I felt that the hearing was very adversarial. I felt like I was in a court of law being cross-examined by a barrister. I was tearful, remorseful and frightened.’

‘I cannot imagine how a doctor who is not legally represented would manage with such a difficult and aggressive process.’

‘Zero thought/consideration for the accused who, in the eyes of the GMC, are assumed legally guilty until such time as they can legally extricate themselves. I’ve left medicine.’

‘Often I got no updates. One of the major blows was when I contacted the GMC, months after the preliminary inquiry started and expecting it would be concluded soon, only to be told that essentially nothing of substance had been done.’ 

‘I felt that I had no idea what was going on at points. My investigation ultimately took over one year before being closed. I would regard it as one of the most stressful years of my life. The tone of the investigation and the lack of human approach was notable.’ 

‘The case was closed without any action after two years, which I felt was far too long to investigate what emerged as a straightforward investigation.’