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MDU: How to avoid the increase of sexual health allegations

28 July 2015

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Allegations of sexual assault have increased by 66% over a recent 11-year period, but they usually stem from a misunderstanding that can be avoided, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) revealed.

The doctors union advised that before an examination GPs should ensure that each patient understands what will happen in the examination, why this is necessary, has given their consent, and – depending on local policy – a chaperone is offered.

Dr Beverley Ward, MDU medico-legal advisor, explained:  “Cases usually arise as a result of a misunderstanding, for example a patient may not understand why a symptom in one part of the body may require an examination of another area… Doctors should also be sensitive to what patients may think of as an intimate examination and offer a chaperone if appropriate. It’s worth noting that a chaperone was not present for any of the sexual assault allegation cases notified to us in 2013.”

The MDU stated that some patients may consider routine touching or even being close to them as intimate, so the doctor should keep notes on the discussion with the patient, that a chaperone was offered, and whether the patient accepted or declined.

The union also recommended that the patient is given privacy to dress or undress, that there should be no “lighthearted or personal comments” and that if the patients asks for the examination to stop, for example due to discomfort, then it should.

“While in the vast majority of cases the doctor is cleared of any wrong doing, the investigations into the incident can be prolonged, damaging for the doctor’s career, and distressing for all involved,” Ward added.