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GMC offers advice for doctors contemplating strike action

Guide makes it clear that they must make care of their patient their first concern

Mark Gould

Friday, 06 November 2015

As the BMA is about to ballot junior doctors in England about taking industrial action over a new contract, the GMC has produced a brief guide for doctors on their rights and responsibilities when withdrawing all or part of their labour.

The GMC says that its core guidance, Good Medical Practice , does not prevent doctors from taking part in industrial action. However, any doctor contemplating industrial action must follow GMC guidance, which makes it clear that they must make the care of their patient their first concern.

"Doctors should take reasonable steps to satisfy themselves that arrangements are in place to care for their patients and should not disrupt the arrangements employers have made. Doctors have a responsibility for continuity and coordination of care, and for the safe transfer of patients between different teams. Their actions must not harm patients or put them at risk," said GMC chief executive Niall Dickson.

"We recognise that the circumstances facing each doctor will be different, and it will therefore be a matter for each individual to assess their own situation and make sure this guidance is followed.

"Employers also have duties and are required to meet our standards in relation to doctors in training. In particular, they should make sure that doctors are supported in the learning environment and given appropriate clinical supervision, and that rotas are designed to minimise the adverse effects of fatigue and workload. They also have a responsibility to make sure that any patient safety concerns are acted on immediately. Doctors who have a management role or responsibility must make sure that doctors and other staff who raise a concern are protected from unfair criticism or action, including any detriment or dismissal."

Mr Dickson, said the GMC had been approached by a number of doctors asking for its view, and as a result it became clear that they needed some advice on this matter.

"We do understand the strength of feeling on this issue, and recognise the considerable pressure that doctors and NHS employers are under to deliver the high quality and safe care that patients expect.

"It is not for us to advise doctors on how to vote and we are not able to tell doctors in training what to do. It is a decision for them. Given our statutory obligations as the independent regulator, which includes responsibility for medical training, we have no role in the relations between doctors and their employers, and we have no scope to become involved in contract negotiations. However, we are here to protect patients, and we have a duty to remind doctors and employers of their responsibilities. Our advice is intended to be helpful."

Picture: Junior doctors marching in London streets to campaign against NHS contract changes. 17 October 2015. Credit: William Perugini / Shutterstock.com

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