Medics call for tougher sentences for fake doctors

The Medical Defence Union has called for tougher sentences for people posing as registered medical doctors to protect the public in the wake of the pandemic.

The MDU made the call because it is concerned by recent cases of members of the public posing as doctors and exploiting vulnerable patients with fake vaccines and other scams. The government is reviewing the way it regulates doctors including penalties for those posing as medical professionals.

Currently, under Section 49 the Medical Act, it is a criminal offence for someone not on the General Medical Council’s medical register to falsely portray themselves as a registered member of the medical profession. However, the maximum sentence for someone found guilty is a fine, putting the offence on the same scale as a TV license payment evasion. The MDU wants the offence recategorised so that it can either be tried summarily in the magistrates' court, or on indictment before judge and jury at the crown court.

Dr Christine Tomkins, chief executive of the MDU, said:

"Those who pretend to be a registered medical doctor can pose an immediate risk to the health and wellbeing of the public. They can also do damage to public trust in all healthcare professionals. Defending the good name of the medical profession is important to the MDU and to our members.

"The government is proposing that the current maximum penalty for the offence in the Medical Act should remain as a fine. We do not believe that is right. A fine does not reflect the seriousness of the offence. We believe the courts should have all sentencing options open for offenders and that is what we have urged the government to do.

"This would put the offence on a par with other fraud offences; ensure the offence is prosecuted and treated with all the seriousness it merits, and crucially, allow the public to see a full and accurate picture of the number of prosecutions that take place."

According to a BBC news story, between 2006 and 2017, 12 people were charged under the Medical Act 1983 with pretending to be registered as a doctor, Crown Prosecution Service figures show. And in 2018, the GMC carried out a review of 3000 doctors' qualifications after a person who had dropped out of medical school practised as a psychiatrist for 23 years.

However, because the penalties for the offence are so low, it's possible that offenders have been prosecuted under different legislation such as the Fraud Act 2006, where prison sentences are available to the courts for serious offences. It is therefore difficult to get a true picture of how commonly this type of crime occurs.

The MDU made the comments in its submission to the Department for Health and Social Care’s soon to close consultation on Regulating healthcare professionals, protecting the public. The MDU says it is a missed opportunity that under the proposals (page 44 – 46), posing as a doctor – which is classed as a protected title offence – will remain a summary only offence that can only be tried in the magistrates' court and punished by a fine.

This page was correct at publication on 15/06/2021. 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.