Conflict in the Middle East: how we are responding to queries and concerns

The ongoing conflict in the Middle East is deeply concerning. We understand the significant impact it’s having on the profession, patients and the public.

We recognise that people have different views on the situation and that conversations continue to take place on social media, in the general media, and inside and outside workplaces. 

We continue to engage directly with doctor representative organisations to learn more about their members’ experiences. We know some have had questions about what Good medical practice says about commenting on such issues, and feel worried about the potential for referral to the GMC or implications for their practice.

We want to highlight some key points from our guidance, provide assurance about how we’ll handle concerns appropriately, and outline the support available to everyone affected.

What our guidance says about doctors expressing their personal beliefs

Our guidance on personal beliefs and medical practice is clear - doctors, like all citizens, are entitled to their political opinions and have the right to campaign on issues.

However, Good medical practice makes clear that doctors must follow the law, which includes legal restrictions on freedom of expression. They should also make sure their conduct justifies patients’ trust in them and the public’s trust in the profession.

Any form of antisemitism or Islamophobia is completely unacceptable and the standards state that doctors must not discriminate against, bully, or harass anyone they work with. They must treat colleagues with kindness, courtesy, and respect. This applies in the workplace and when doctors are engaging on social media.

The same standards apply to behaviour towards patients. Doctor must treat patients with respect, not discriminate against them, or let their personal views affect their relationship with them or the treatment they provide or arrange.

Doctors must also not express their personal beliefs, whether political or otherwise, to patients in ways that exploit their vulnerability or could reasonably cause them distress. We expect doctors to be honest and trustworthy, making sure any information they communicate is accurate, and not presenting opinion as established fact.

How we handle concerns raised with us related to these issues

If we receive a complaint or a self-referral about the actions of a doctor or their comments, we have a legal duty to consider the issues raised.

As with all complaints, our decision will be based on the specific facts of the case, using the professional standards that apply to all doctors registered to practise in the UK. We assess how serious the concern is, any relevant context, and how the doctor responded to the issues raised.

Participation in a protest, for example, would not in itself constitute a fitness to practise concern. However, it may if the doctor’s actions or behaviour while at that protest create a risk to patient safety or undermine public confidence in doctors.

If a concern raised about a doctor doesn’t meet our threshold for investigation, but we believe the doctor’s words or actions could be reasonably considered offensive, we may inform their employer or responsible officer. We would also advise the doctor to reflect on their actions at their next appraisal and consider the impact on their practice.

Some doctors have asked us how we define and assess whether someone’s comments or conduct are antisemitic or Islamophobic. There are no universally agreed or legally defined criteria for these terms, so we seek legal advice to ensure our approach to considering such allegations is robust.

We also draw on dictionary definitions of antisemitism and Islamophobia, and those from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, the Jerusalem Declaration Definition on Antisemitism, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group definition of Islamophobia as appropriate.

How we make sure concerns raised with us are appropriate and fair

We know doctors may feel worried about fitness to practise referrals to the GMC being used inappropriately to discourage comment or unfairly target individuals.  We’re clear that this is absolutely unacceptable. We’ve been meeting with employers to convey this message and to outline our expectations for how they should support doctors facing such issues.

We want to reassure doctors that there are a number of processes and safeguards to help make sure that concerns raised with us are appropriate and fair.

We’re also working to help patients and members of the public understand what we can and can’t investigate. We signpost to organisations that might be better placed to deal with their concerns and are working with those organisations to make sure they’re offering good advice.

Support and advice for doctors 

Good medical practice makes clear that we expect doctors to work collaboratively with colleagues, treating them fairly and with respect. We expect doctors to act if this isn’t happening. This could include challenging the behaviour by speaking to the person responsible, speaking to a colleague and/or considering whether to report the behaviour in line with their workplace policy. 

Our Speaking up webpage has a range of resources and practical help. It includes information about external organisations who provide independent support for raising concerns. Our confidential helpline is also available for advice if you're finding this challenging. It’s available Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm, on 0161 923 6399.

We understand the impact that having a concern raised about them can have on a doctor, and we aim to conclude our processes as swiftly as possible. 

Our fitness to practise explained page provides further information about the process, including the support available for doctors during what we know can be a difficult time. 

Useful links and further information