Sunday, January 8, 2012

Trouble at Mill

18 months ago I received a piece of mail I guess we all dread. A letter from the GMC – I could tell from the thickness of the envelope it wasn't just a reminder about impending fees – a thick brown envelope – and i was pretty confident it didn't contain a bundle of cash. It didn't, it detailed that a patient had complained about me to the GMC.

The complaint was, I guess, justified – in that i had over stepped a professional boundary. Lest your minds concoct a scenario worse than it actually was, I will briefly explain what it was about. In a dark and bad time of my life I had misinterpreted the friendliness shown to me by a patient as something more than just pleasantness. I had subsequently looked up the patient on facebook and invited her to be my friend socially. There was nothing lurid, sexual or offensive and she hadn't alleged anything of the type.

She had done what was right and complained about me to the GMC as it had made her feel uncomfortable

I don't condone what I did, nor do I hold any ill will towards this person. I should have known better. My thinking was coloured. I had justified it in my own mind as acceptable – albeit flirting with the rules – in that I would never see her again as a patient ( for various reasons, which I will not go into, I was never going to work in the practice again) and I had only met her once – in what was a fairly simple medical consultation. She wasn't depressed or vulnerable; I was merely reaching out the hand of friendship

That as I8 months ago, so what happened after that? Well in my mind i had visions of impending doom, financial ruin (never far away anyway), suspension, front page headlines in the Sun, being unemployable, and my various employers suddenly not requiring my services and so on. Actually what happened was a whole lot of nothing. I continued getting work, although one or two practices stopped booking me, but the majority of practices didn't stop. To those that continued employing me I will be forever grateful. It wasn't just the income, although that was important. It was more the personal endorsement that I was not bad at my job.

One of the problems as a doctor is that you are not just a person who works as a doctor; it's your whole identity, the one thing you are trained to do, something you have worked years and years to achieve. The skills aren't particularly transferrable. So when your work life is in crisis it affects your whole being. So when practices and out of hours GP practices continued to employ me (which i hadn't expected them to do) it not only continued to provide me with income, but with a little self belief.

Months went by with nothing, until nine months later another letter arrived through the same letterbox saying that my case had been reviewed and no further action would be taken....although there was a caveat. In the past I had been to occupation health to be assessed as being fit enough to return to work after a bout of depression following the breakup of a relationship and this had been mentioned to the GMC when my employers were given the opportunity to comment on my performance

The long and short of it was that the GMC now wanted access to my occupational health records and because of my previous depression and admission that I might imbibe a little too much wine – I would now have the be assessed by two consultant psychiatrists. Another 9 months passed before I could finally put the matter to bed

I tell this story not to defend myself – as I did wrong, not to berate the GMC or the complainant. But I feel it best to be open and honest about the events that have shaped my professional life. Perhaps others in professional strife – be they doctors or otherwise – will find some comfort in them.

And yes..there are some chinks in my armour!


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