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Compassion is vital in the regulation of medical professionals

Compassionate regulation was a recurrent theme throughout a recent episode of the RSM’s In Conversation Live webinar series, with guest Professor Iqbal Singh CBE interviewed by RSM President Professor Roger Kirby.

Professor Singh was co-chair of the independent learning review of the General Medical Council’s handling of the case of locum GP Dr Manjula Arora, which was reported as sparking anger and anxiety among doctors in equal measure.

In November 2022 the review found that an allegation of dishonesty against Dr Arora, who was suspended for a month over her use of the word “promised” when requesting a work laptop, should not have been taken forward.

“What we are saying for the regulator is that we have to make sure and recognise that supporting doctors, being fair to them, being compassionate to them actually is the best way to help the patients that they serve," said Professor Singh.

Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Bolton and Chair of the Centre of Excellence in Safety for Older People, Professor Singh told Professor Kirby that the inherent purpose of regulation is to maintain standards and ‘by maintaining standards you maintain the quality of care to patients.’

A major part of the independent review focused on how doctors can be supported when they find themselves in difficulty. “The biggest challenge, and especially post-COVID, is the impact on the mental health of doctors and how we make sure they are supported,” said Professor Singh.

“The advice to any doctor would be that if you have a complaint, or if you have been reported to the General Medical Council, then there are avenues of support available.

“Please access these avenues of support, because we also recognise how difficult it is for people who are in difficulty to be able to share that with anybody else for so many reasons.

“But we can assure them that most of these support mechanisms … will be there in their interest.”

Professor Singh went on to describe the recommendations coming out of the independent review into the Dr Arora case. “We need to make sure that people who are looking at these [cases] have an amount of cultural competence, cultural intelligence, diversity intelligence…The only way the GMC will progress is with data collection, making it a norm, and data studies and understanding how they identify where the problems are and how do they use that data as a means of learning and education? The good thing is that the GMC has accepted all our recommendations.”

Other areas discussed during the conversation included ethics and compassion in medical school training, support to help international medical graduates integrate with the NHS, the role and regulation of physician associates, and the issue of race inequality and inclusion within medicine in the UK’s honours system.

Watch extended highlights of In Conversation Live with Professor Iqbal Singh CBE, which was hosted by the Royal Society of Medicine on Wednesday 12 July 2023.

Helpful links for healthcare professionals in difficulty:

NHS Practitioner Health

Doctors’ Support Network

Doctors in Distress

BMA counselling and peer support services

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