MDU advises doctors not to ignore inappropriate patient behaviour

Updated GMC guidance places more emphasis on speaking up about sexual advances in the workplace.

Doctors are being reminded to get help if a patient makes an inappropriate advance, now that new guidance by the regulator places more emphasis on reporting unacceptable sexual behaviour in the workplace.

In a recent MDU survey on receiving gifts from patients, around 15% of the 411 MDU members who responded had concerns about the reason for gift giving, including that the gift was inappropriate. Some of those responding reported receiving cards and flowers on Valentine's day from patients, while others were offered (and declined) perfume and lingerie.

Dr Catherine Wills, MDU deputy head of advisory services, said:

"It is not uncommon for doctors to be in a situation where they feel uncomfortable because a patient is behaving in an inappropriate way towards them. This can range from suggestive comments and inappropriate gifts or Valentine's cards to intrusive questions - and in some cases, sexual propositions. None of this is acceptable for healthcare professionals to face in the workplace, and they should take action to prevent such behaviour from escalating.

"The GMC's newly updated guidance, Maintaining personal and professional boundaries, places more emphasis on reporting inappropriate sexual behaviour. It advises that if a patient behaves in a sexual way towards a doctor and that doctor feels safe to do, to tell the patient their behaviour is unacceptable and ask them to stop. If this doesn't work, doctors should excuse themselves from the encounter and seek help. They should report the incident in line with workplace policies.

"We would also advise doctors to keep a record of what happened and to get support from colleagues and your medical defence organisation."

GMC guidance gives examples of unacceptable sexual behaviour including groping, sexual comments, jokes, innuendo or banter, suggestive looks or leering, a person asking intrusive questions about the person's private or sex life and sending sexually explicit emails, text messages or posts on social media.

This page was correct at publication on 13/02/2024. 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.