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Historical sexual harassment claims not acted on by doctors’ watchdog

More than 1 in 10 sexual harassment complaints against doctors are not investigated by the General Medical Council because of an “arbitary” rule, the Observer has revealed.

According to data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, 13% of sexual misconduct complaints made between the years 2017-18 and 2021-22 were closed without investigation because the GMC is prevented from considering alleged incidents more than five years after the event.

As part of the council’s remit to protect patient safety and improve medical education and practice across the UK it investigates any kind of complaint against doctors.

The figures show the GMC refused to investigate 170 complaints relating to sexual assault, attempted rape, and rape in the period analysed. In 22 of those cases the five-year rule was cited. It received 566 sexual harassment complaints in the same period.

Anthony Omo, the GMC’s general counsel and director of fitness to practise, told the Observer: “We can and do waive the five-year rule where there are grave allegations involving sexual assault or rape. In many cases involving sexual allegations, the GMC’s position will be that such serious misconduct is incompatible with continued registration.”

A government consultation in February heard that the five-year-rule was “arbitrary” and “a barrier to public protection” as it allowed doctors who may be guilty of inappropriate behaviour to continue practising. However, despite commitments from the Department of Health and Social Care to scrap the limitation as a “top priority”, no date has been set.

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Source: The Guardian, 30 September 2023


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