25 August 2023

An Update to Good Medical Practice – what does this mean for doctors?

Written by Stephanie Johnston

This week the General Medical Council (‘GMC’) unveiled the first major changes to doctors’ practice requirements in a decade. The changes are due to come into effect on 30th January 2024.

Good Medical Practice (‘GMP’) sets out the standards of patient care and professional behaviour expected of all doctors in the United Kingdom, across all specialities, career stages and sectors. Many of the standards remain similar or draw in reference to other GMC guidance that doctors will already be familiar with for example, guidance on openness and honesty, confidentiality and record keeping.

The four domains that make up GMP have been renamed and many of the domains set out more detailed requirements as to what is expected.

There are, however, a number of updates, which all doctors practising in the UK will wish to familiarise themselves with. The five key changes can be summarised as follows:

  1. Create respectful, fair and compassionate workplaces for colleagues and patients;
  2. Promote patient centred care;
  3. Tackle discrimination;
  4. Champion fair and inclusive leadership; and
  5. Support continuity of care and safe delegation

It is evident on reading GMP that the GMC is committed to taking all possible steps to ensure that that the medical profession is fair, and free from discrimination.

GMP says that doctors, ‘must not act in sexual way towards colleagues with the effect or purpose of causing offence, embarrassment, humiliation or distress’. This includes verbal or written comments, physical contact and displaying or sharing images. Doctors may wish to be particularly careful as to content they may share with colleagues for example, on work group messages as something which may be considered by one party to be a joke may cause offence to another.

The GMC has also set out what steps they consider doctors should take if they witness behaviours, which may be considered to be bullying or harassment. This demonstrates that the GMC is trying to ensure the medical profession is inclusive to all and to make every doctor accountable for ensuring a positive working environment.

Should a doctor witness bullying or harassing behaviours, GMP states that they should report the behaviour in line with the relevant workplace policy, challenge the behaviour by speaking to the person responsible and check in to offer support to anyone targeted or affected by the behaviour. If a doctor witnesses bullying and / or harassment in the workplace, and they do not take the aforementioned steps, it may be considered that that doctor has breached their obligations under GMP.

In addition to the above, GMP emphasises the importance of a patient centric approach to medical care and treatment, and treating all patients with respect.

Perhaps, of particular relevance to the provision of reproductive healthcare in Northern Ireland, GMP explicitly states that if a doctor has a conscientious objection to a particular procedure, they must make sure that the management of this does not act as a barrier to a patient’s access to appropriate care to meet their needs.

GMP specifically states that doctors must treat patients with kindness, courtesy and respect. These are attributes that patients would naturally expect from their treating doctor and have, in turn, been cemented into the professional standards doctors must comply with.

There is a new section on sustainability, which says that doctors should choose sustainable solutions when they are able to, provided these don’t compromise care standards. This will, of course, be a welcome development particularly in the current climate where society is seeking to reduce its impact on the environment and reverse (or at least halt) the impact of global warming.

GMP also sets out that doctors must make good use of the resources available to them and provide the best service possible taking account of their responsibilities to patients and the wider population. One would anticipate that this section of GMP is borne out of the issues faced by medical practitioners during the pandemic and the subsequent supply chain issues, which have arisen in recent years.

In summary, the updates to GMP demonstrate the GMC’s vision for an inclusive, kind and respectful culture within the medical profession. GMP is not meant to be a set of rules for doctors to follow blindly, but a guide to be borne in mind when exercising their professional judgement.

If you would like any further information or advice on these issues, please contact Stephanie Johnston from the Healthcare team.

*This information is for guidance purposes only and does not constitute, nor should be regarded, as a substitute for taking legal advice that is tailored to your circumstances.

About the author

Stephanie Johnston

Senior Associate

Stephanie Johnston is a Senior Associate in the Healthcare team at Carson McDowell. Stephanie specialises in defending doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals in relation to Professional Disciplinary/ regulatory cases, which includes investigations by the General Medical Council, General Dental Council, the Medical Council (Ireland), the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman and investigations commenced by health and social care trusts under the MHPS Framework.

Related Insights

All Insights