Twenty eight doctors committed suicide while undergoing fitness to practise investigations by the GMC between 2005 and 2013.
In response, the GMC has committed to reviewing the way it treats vulnerable doctors under fitness to practise investigations following the publication of the independent review it commissioned.
The report aimed to establish whether the GMC’s fitness to practise procedures could be improved to reduce the impact on vulnerable doctors.
The case reviews of doctors during this period showed that many of the doctors who committed suicide suffered from a recognised mental health disorder or had drug and/or alcohol addictions.
Other factors which often followed from those conditions that may have also contributed to their deaths include marriage breakdown, financial hardship, and in some cases police involvement as well as the stress of being investigated by the GMC.
The review makes a number of recommendations for reducing the impact of investigations on doctors who have health problems.
These recommendations include appointing a senior medical officer within the GMC to be responsible for overseeing health cases and ensuring that every doctor should feel they are treated as ‘innocent until proven guilty’.
The review also says there needs to be greater support for vulnerable doctors and recommends the establishment of a National Support Service for doctors. The GMC has undertaken to host an event to explore the idea further.
Niall Dickson, CEO of the GMC, said: “We know that some doctors who come into our procedures have very serious health concerns, including those who have had ideas of committing suicide. We know too that for any doctor, being investigated by the GMC is a stressful experience and very often follows other traumas in their lives.
“Our first duty must, of course, be to protect patients but we are determined to do everything we can to make sure we handle these cases as sensitively as possible, to ensure the doctors are being supported locally and to reduce the impact of our procedures.”
The BMA said doctors undergoing fitness for practice investigations must be fully supported.
Dr Mark Porter, chair of BMA Council, commented: “The GMC’s previous research exposed doctors’ views of the investigation process and it is clear that more needs to be done to understand the wider implications on doctors’ mental health, and the care they feel able to deliver.
“It is in the interests of both doctors and patients that, where appropriate, concerns can be raised and that these are thoroughly investigated. But this process must be fair and offer adequate protection to ensure the system itself does not cause harm.
“We are pleased that the GMC…is putting in place measures to provide the right support.”