An senior house officer (SHO) working in the ED contacted the MDU after receiving an email from a GMC paralegal asking to arrange an interview with them. The paralegal explained that the GMC was investigating an FY2 colleague, after a mutual acquaintance complained to the GMC that the FY2 had inappropriately accessed his clinical records when he had attended the ED as a patient.
The complainant alleged that the FY2 had shared details of the patient's medical history with friends and colleagues, and that she had commented on a number of occasions to her friends that she had accessed other patients' medical records simply out of interest, rather than for any clinical purpose.
The paralegal wanted a phone interview in order to take a witness statement, saying she would then draft a statement on the SHO's behalf based on that interview, which she would ask the SHO to sign.
The SHO contacted the MDU for guidance, explaining that she felt uncomfortable about providing information and potentially being asked to testify against a friend. She stated that she had been out on social occasions with the FY2, and also worked with her on several shifts, including the evening on which the mutual acquaintance had been admitted.
The SHO explained that the FY2 had commented to her while they were on shift, "I wonder what's up with [the complainant]?" But she had not actually seen the FY2 look at their acquaintance's notes and had no idea whether the FY2 had done so. She also did not recall ever hearing the FY2 make any comments about accessing patients' notes for non-clinical reasons, and was therefore hesitant to speak to the GMC paralegal.
The adviser empathised with the difficult position in which the SHO found herself and acknowledged it might feel awkward. The adviser drew to the SHO's attention the GMC guidance in 'Good medical practice' (2024), which states that doctors are expected to cooperate with formal inquiries and complaints procedures (paragraph 98). The adviser also pointed out that the SHO had a responsibility to cooperate with the GMC's inquiry.
The adviser explained that the GMC paralegal would ask the SHO about 'first-hand evidence' - what she herself saw and heard. The adviser suggested the SHO answer questions honestly and truthfully, but limit herself to providing information only within her own direct experience and observation.
The adviser drew the SHO's attention to the GMC's guidance (paragraph 88), which states that doctors must be honest and trustworthy when giving evidence or when writing or signing documents, take reasonable steps to check the information, and not deliberately leave out relevant information or minimise/trivialise risks of harm. The adviser also explained that the GMC expects a doctor acting as a witness to make clear the limits of their competence and knowledge.
The adviser pointed out that if a fitness to practice hearing followed, the SHO might be asked to attend and give evidence. It was therefore important to make sure that any statement she signed accurately reflected her recollection of events.
The SHO arranged a date and time to be interviewed by the GMC paralegal, who afterwards gave her a draft statement based on the contents of their discussion. The SHO, with the assistance of the MDU adviser, made some alterations and corrections to the draft that clarified her meaning.
The SHO quoted the words that she recalled the FY2 saying, but made clear that she had not seen the FY2 looking at the patient's notes, or ever heard the FY2 make any allusion to accessing other patients' notes. The SHO then signed the statement and returned it to the GMC paralegal.
A fitness to practice hearing did subsequently take place, but the SHO was not asked to attend.
This is a fictional dilemma based on members' experiences and the types of calls we receive to our advice line.
This page was correct at publication on 30/01/2024. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.