The General Medical Council (GMC) has launched a 12-week consultation on the draft new content of Good medical practice

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New responsibilities for doctors regarding their use of social media and tackling toxic workplace behaviours and sexual harassment are among key proposals in the GMC’s planned update to its core ethical guidance.

The regulator has launched a 12-week consultation on the draft new content of Good medical practice, which outlines the professional values, knowledge, and behaviours expected of doctors working in the UK. This represents the first major update of the guidance since it first came into effect in April 2013, with the review process launched last year.

The GMC said the draft new update follows months of working with representatives of doctors, employers, and patients, as well as other stakeholders, and reflects the issues faced in modern-day healthcare workplaces.

In all, the draft updated Good medical practice runs to 16 pages, and provides detailed guidance for medical professionals covering areas including ‘working with colleagues’, ‘working with patients’, ‘professional capabilities’, and ‘maintaining trust’.

New additions

Included for the first time in the draft new guidance is a duty for doctors to act, or support others to act, if they become aware of workplace bullying, harassment, or discrimination, as well as zero tolerance of sexual harassment.

The draft guidance also responds to calls from doctors for greater clarity on their use of social media. A new duty makes clear that they must not use digital communications channels to mislead, and they should ‘make reasonable checks’ to avoid doing so.

For the first time, the GMC’s ethical guidance proposes 12 commitments, including to:

  • make the care of patients my first concern
  • demonstrate leadership within my role, and work with others to make healthcare environments more supportive, inclusive, and fair
  • provide a good standard of practice and care, and be honest and open when things go wrong
  • ensure my conduct justifies my patients’ trust in me and the public’s trust in my profession.

GMC Chief Executive, Charlie Massey, said: ‘Good medical practice is not a set of rules, but it is the bedrock that helps guide ethical practice in a world of increasingly complex medicine. This update is designed to reflect the type of fair, inclusive, and compassionate workplaces we all want to see, and that are good for doctors as well as for patients.

‘There is a lot of evidence of the damage bad workplace cultures can do to patient safety and, ultimately, to the UK’s ability to retain the healthcare professionals it needs. Toxic cultures can also spread online, undermining public trust in the medical profession.’

Mr Massey said it is important that the GMC’s guidance reflects the reality of what doctors face and the cultures many are working in, and that it supports them to be able to do the best for their patients and for their colleagues. ‘We want this guidance to be relevant and helpful now and for years ahead, and to achieve that we need to hear from those who will use it. That is what this consultation is all about.’

Doctors’ response

Professor Andrew Elder, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said that given the pressures on the medical workforce, it is vital that medicine remains an attractive career: ‘As such, everything possible must be done to ensure a positive, open, honest, and diverse culture in the health service.

‘While there are many excellent examples of this, there’s more work to do. The College, therefore, welcomes the GMC’s commitment to improving health service culture, through a revision of its Good Medical Practice guidance.

‘Improving health service culture is about enhancing the wellbeing of healthcare workers, and ensuring patient safety. Our medical workforce must be valued and supported at all stages of their careers, from medical student, to junior doctor, to consultant, and to medical director.

‘As such, there are a range of other policies, too, which could help improve the wellbeing of our medical workforce.’

He added that the College supports more effective international recruitment to ease pressure on health services, good rest and catering facilities (especially for those working nightshifts), more humane rota design, and flexibility to work less than full time or to focus on research or training.

The British Medical Association told Medscape UK that it will be making a formal response to the consultation once it has considered all the changes to the guidance proposed by the GMC.

The consultation process runs until Wednesday 20 July. The full review process will run until 2023, when the GMC will publish its finalised updated guidance. The new guidance will also apply to Physician Associates and Anaesthesia Associates when they come under GMC regulation.

This article was originally published on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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