Handling complaints about doctors with health concerns

Our fitness to practise investigation staff regularly get advice and training from medical experts on spotting the signs that a doctor may be unwell and on how to respond appropriately.

The types of health issues vary from person to person, and our response is affected by what help the doctor is receiving, how much insight they have into their condition and the support network they have.

When possible, in cases where health issues are at the root of a concern and there are no risks to patients, we avoid a full investigation, focusing instead on early treatment for the doctor. Where the health of a doctor has an impact on patient care, we put arrangements in place to protect the public. To reduce the impact on the doctor, we aim to do this by mutual agreement with the doctor, where possible.

In 2018, we made early stage enquiries about 21 doctors with health concerns. Of these, we were able to close 16 of the cases as our enquiries assured us that the doctor’s health condition was being managed locally and there was no risk to patient safety.

We opened four full investigations as we were unable to obtain assurance through our enquiries. In all four cases, we needed to formally assess the doctor’s health.

We were able to conclude one investigation by agreeing undertakings with the doctor – this is where we agree with the doctor to restrict their future practice or make a commitment to retrain. We only offer undertakings when we decide they are enough to protect patients and the public, and address the concerns about the doctor.

Three full investigations are currently ongoing and we are still completing early stage enquiries for one case.

If a doctor under investigation is very unwell, we can pause the process, so they can receive medical treatment.

Introducing provisional enquiries is just one of a series of changes we’ve made to our fitness to practise procedures to reduce the stress that investigations cause for doctors – particularly those considered vulnerable.

Doctors under investigation now have a single point of contact throughout the process to reduce anxiety caused by receiving correspondence from different members of staff.

Fitness to practise decision makers, case examiners and clinical experts now receive human factors training.

We consulted widely with the profession and the public on these reforms, which come in response to the independent review we commissioned Professor Louis Appleby to carry out in 2015. You can read more about these reforms in our Annual report 2018.