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Don’t disregard inappropriate behaviour displayed by a patient, GPs advised

by Rima Evans
19 February 2024

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GPs are being reminded that inappropriate sexual behaviour from a patient is not something to be ignored – and to take measures to prevent it escalating.

The warning from the medical defence organisation, MDU, comes as recently updated GMC guidance on Maintaining personal and professional boundaries  emphasises more strongly the need to report improper behaviour.

The guidance advises that in the first instance ‘if a patient behaves in a sexual way towards a doctor and they feel safe to do, to tell them their behaviour is unacceptable and ask them to stop.’

If this doesn’t work, it explains, doctors should ‘excuse themselves from the encounter and seek help’.

They should also report the incident ‘in line with workplace policies’ and seek support if needed.

The GMC lists examples of inappropriate behaviour as including (but not limited to) groping, sexual comments, jokes, innuendo or banter, suggestive looks or leering, excessive or unwanted compliments on appearance, propositions and sexual advances, asking intrusive questions and sending sexually explicit emails, text messages or posts on social media.

The MDU also draws on examples from a recent survey it carried out on receiving gifts from patients. It showed that 15% of the 411 MDU members who responded had concerns about the reason for gift giving.

Some 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.

‘None of this is acceptable for healthcare professionals to face in the workplace and they should take action to prevent such behaviour from escalating.’

Dr Wills further added that if experiencing this situation, doctors are also advised ‘to keep a record of what happened and to get support from colleagues and your medical defence organisation.’

The GMC’s Good medical practice, which sets out the standards of care and behaviour expected of medical professionals, was updated on the 30 January.