The General Medical Council is revising 'Good Medical Practice', its core guidance for doctors. The consultation on the new draft closes on Friday10 February and a new edition will be published later this year.
The guidance, which was last published in November 2006, is reviewed every five years. Anyone can respond and questionnaires are available on line.
The draft guidance runs to 22 pages, quotes 18 other GMC documents and includes 83 numbered paragraphs. These outline doctors' responsibilities under four main headings: 'Knowledge, skills and performance', 'Safety and quality', 'Communication, partnership and teamwork' and 'Maintaining trust'.
Doctors have a duty to be familiar with the guidance and to follow it (p3) and are warned that 'serious or persistent failure' to do so 'will put your registration at risk' (p5).
Most of the content is reproduced from the previous edition, although there is some rearrangement of material meaning that direct comparisons are not straight forward.
Christian doctors will be encouraged to see a cursory nod (p13) to the importance of 'spiritual, religious, social and cultural factors' in history taking but will be wary, in an environment of growing hostility to biblical faith and values, to potential booby traps around the old chestnuts of sharing faith and referring patients for unethical procedures like abortion.
Few will take issue with the requirement to 'treat patients fairly and with respect whatever their life choices and beliefs' (p49) but I wondered why 'advising patients on the effects of their life choices on their health' (p51) was presented as an option rather than a duty.
The now familiar prohibition on expressing personal beliefs (including political, religious and moral beliefs) to patients 'in ways that exploit their vulnerability or that are likely to cause them distress' is repeated but the real question will be how patient complaints are to be handled.
There is a duty not to 'unfairly discriminate against patients or colleagues by allowing your personal views to affect your professional relationships or the treatment you provide or arrange' (p60) along with a duty to report colleagues to employers and regulatory bodies if they are felt to be denying patients their rights (p22). There is also a duty to 'give patients the information they want….' (p31)
The paragraph on conscientious objection (52) attempts to strike a balance between the right for a doctor not to participate in procedures he or she believes to be immoral and the duty to inform patients of their right to see another doctor and to 'ensure that arrangements are made for another suitably qualified colleague to take over'.
I encourage all Christian doctors to study the wording of the guidance carefully and to respond by filling in the on-line questionnaire. Once set in stone it will be the standard we are all judged against.