In a recent case, Swift J exclaimed that the “Good Medical Practice is the most important” of all GMC guidance for doctors, when was the last time you actually read it?
Adil v General Medical Council (GMC)
Mohammad Adil appealed against a decision by a Medical Practitioners Tribunal (MPT), arguing that it infringed his article 10 right to free speech.
The allegations before the MPT included matters that took place when he worked at the North Manchester Hospital NHS Trust. These allegations related to his appearances in videos published on YouTube, between April 2020 and October 2020, where he, in summary, said that Covid-19 disease did not exist (or words to that effect) and that COVID-19 pandemic is a conspiracy.
The MPT considered whether Mr Adil’s actions amounted to misconduct and, if so, whether his fitness to practise was impaired. As to the former, the MPT referred to paragraphs 65, 68 and 69 of the GMC’s “Good Medical Practice” (published March 2013, updated April 2014), and to paragraph 17 of GMC guidance “Doctors’ use of social media” (Published March 2013).
However, Adil argued that the charges made against him “were not formulated expressly by reference to paragraph 65 of Good Medical Practice or by reference to the GMC’s Social Media Guidance.” In fact, some of the charge were framed in such a way that they did not reflect the wording of the GMP in any way (i.e “contrary to widely accepted medical opinion” & “undermine public health”.)
GMP is “framed in general terms”
Swift J commented that, whilst, the GMC’s mistakes were “a matter of significant misfortune” and “risks the impression that the GMC is formulating the rules on what amounts to misconduct only after the event”, this, in itself, does not diminish the significance of the Good Medical Practice that should be interpreted in general terms.
“The provisions in 1983 Act need to be read together with the further documents the GMC has issued pursuant to its power under section 35 of the Act. Good Medical Practice is the most important. This states that it is intended to describe what is expected with all doctors registered with the GMC, and is to be read together with the other explanatory guidance the GMC publishes.”
(para 16, emphasis added)
Despite the clear errors made by the GMC and the MPT in the way the charges were worded and considered, Swift J clarified that:
“The obligation within paragraph 65 of Good Medical Practice to maintain public trust in the medical profession is framed in general terms.”
(para 17, emphasis added)
“Although the obligation is stated generally, in the context of the regulation of a profession, that is sufficient for the purposes of the prescribed by law condition. Standards such as paragraph 65 of Good Medical Practice reflect the general body of obligations attaching to a profession and are capable of being readily understood by the members of that profession, and certainly with the assistance of appropriate advice.”
(para 17, emphasis added)
Swift J also confirmed that the GMP should be read “prospectively”, in other words, “whether it was or should have been reasonably foreseeable … that … actions might conflict with professional standards set by the GMC.” (para 20, emphasis added)
Swift J’s comments clearly states, therefore, that the GMP:
- “is framed in general terms” and should be read and interpreted in this way;
- should “be read together with the other explanatory guidance” – such as the Social Media Guidance in this case;
- reflect the “general body” of obligations attaching to a profession; and
- should be read “prospectively”.
GMP – What last did you read it?
Good Medical Practice is the key document in which the GMC sets out your ethical duties as a doctor, and it is used as a benchmark in virtually all tribunal decisions – but when was the last time you actually read it?
In our experience, however, many doctors have only an arms-length familiarity with the contents of Good Medical Practice. Good Medical Practice is a short but essential piece of reading – it won’t take long. ‘Good medical practice in action’ also provides online case studies, which help to bring the guidance alive. There are over 70 further topics and each has a few scenarios to try out.
It is clear from Adil v General Medical Council that doctors should not make the mistake of reading or interpreting the GMP in too narrow a way. The GMP is framed in general terms and should be understood to apply prospectively and reflect the general body of obligations.
Kings View Chambers
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Disclaimer: This article is for guidance purposes only. Kings View Chambers accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken, or not taken, in relation to this article. You should seek the appropriate legal advice having regard to your own particular circumstances.