General Medical Council guidance on professionalism. How does this impact you?

It is generally understood by the profession that professionalism relates to behaviours inside and outside of the workplace so that the public will feel confident in the profession. Patients expect doctors to be honest, trustworthy, to act with integrity and within the law.

If a medical registrant doesn’t behave professionally, they could be investigated by their employer and ultimately the General Medical Council for breaches of expected behaviours.

But what about a situation in which a healthcare professional finds themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. In this article we consider a real life case which had devastating consequences for a dental registrant and how we helped them navigate out of their investigations successfully.

Case study – Personal Misconduct

Person A was happily working at a reputable dental practice alongside nurses, dentists, hygienists, receptionists and other support staff. The whole dental team attended an office party in the evening outside of work where a good time was had by all. Some members of them went back to one person’s house to stay for the night. Two colleagues, Person A and Person B engaged in sexual activity.

WhatsApp messages after the night out and subsequent conversations at work between the colleagues, including between Person A and B suggested everyone was happy and that they had all had a good time on their night out.

A month or so later, Person A was invited to a HR meeting, without any notice, when they were informed Person B had made an allegation of sexual assault against them. This came as a complete shock to Person A. Person A was asked inappropriate questions by HR. HR asked them to explain why Person B would make the allegations. They said they were considering terminating their contract of employment, without following any process or explaining to Person A what process they were following. They also made inappropriate comments such as, whatever Person A said to them about the events would remain within their four walls. Person A quickly sought legal advice. We engaged with the Practice on their behalf and they kept their job.

The matter was then investigated by the police, NHS England and the General Dental Council. We assisted Person A in all these investigations. For the interview under caution we prepared a detailed statement on their behalf about the events which took place and submitted supportive statements from their colleagues, together with the WhatsApp message exchanges. More than a year later the police closed their case. The police confirmed there were many inconsistencies in Person B’s account which was not supported by other information. The police confirmed Person B had also described consent and had admitted Person A had said they did not need to do this.

By this time however, Person A had been subject to an interim orders hearing before the GDC, which following submissions concluded there was insufficient evidence of risk to support an interim order of suspension. We then submitted a formal response to the GDC’s Rule 4 allegations which was requested even though the police had closed their investigation. The Case Examiners concluded the case with no further action.

Conclusion

The above hung over Person A for many years. They were however a popular and well respected colleague and so we were able to gather supportive material on their behalf relatively easily. Person A also acted quickly in seeking legal advice.

It’s important to obtain advice in relation to any personal or professional misconduct matter from specialists in healthcare professional regulation, as soon as possible. Ultimately, what is said to other parties, such as to the police, your employers and NHS bodies will be seen by the General Medical Council, so the tests they apply in considering fitness to practise need to be borne in mind when preparing any response.