GP’s apology is not an admission of guilt, GMC confirms

8th June 2023 by NASGP

GP’s apology is not an admission of guilt, GMC confirms

The GMC has acknowledged that a doctor’s apology is not an admission of guilt, Pulse reported in a new exclusive.

The GMC had previously suggested to a Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) fitness-to-practise tribunal that a doctor’s apology to a patient was an admission of guilt.

A Trust locum doctor, Dr Nithya Santhanalakshmi Shunmugavel Pandian, was suspended for two months following a tribunal in 2019. The GMC alleged that when Dr Pandian had apologised to the patient, her apology only made sense as an admission of guilt.

On 1 June GMC acknowledged to Pulse that its ethical guidance ‘is clear that a doctor apologising to a patient does not mean that they are admitting legal liability’ and it will make its legal representatives aware of this ‘for future cases’. The GMC’s own ethical guidance states ‘apologising to a patient does not mean that you are admitting legal liability for what has happened’.

GPs responding to NASGP’s 2023 survey warned that workforce pressures were affecting their willingness to do patient-facing work.

  • One GP reported that their top priority was ‘developing a non-patient-facing workstream so I can reduce my clinical commitments…. keep my income up and exposure to clinical work down’.
  • Another reported working two days a week in a community hospice just to escape the 10-minute mandate on appointment times common in many practices.

Last month an MPS survey found that almost half of respondents said fear of being investigated due to incidents arising from staff shortages was affecting their mental health.

Dr Richard Fieldhouse, NASGP chair, said: “I’m really glad to see that the GMC has clarified that a doctor’s apology does not equate to an admission of guilt. This clarification will likely boost GPs’ confidence in the GMC, especially as we continue to grapple with the challenges posed by a shrinking GP workforce and increased patient demand. It is crucial for GPs to feel secure in providing the best possible care, and being able to respond empathetically with a heartfelt apology when hearing of a patient’s distress, without fearing legal entanglements or punitive actions.

“The stress resulting from complaints and the looming threat of investigation can have a significant impact on GPs’ mental health, as evidenced in our recent survey. As a GP Locum Chambers Lead, I have personally witnessed the benefits of supporting GP locums under GMC investigation, providing them with protection and reducing the damage caused by a GMC investigation. Being part of a collective that provides peer support can greatly alleviate the stress and vulnerability experienced by GPs during these challenging times.”

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