You need to have complete trust in your doctor. They treat people at their most vulnerable, are provided with the most sensitive details, and often see their patients at their most exposed.
So could your GP or hospital doctor be a sex offender? Well, surprisingly, yes.
The information we obtained, published today in the Daily Mail, reveals 31 doctors are still licensed to work, despite being convicted of sex offences. These include relatively minor offences, such as kerb crawling and indecency, along with sexual assaults and child pornography.
More shockingly still, at least 10 of them are free to treat patients without special restrictions or monitoring. Presumably, they could treat a vulnerable woman, or a child.
The reaction to the story has been predictably outraged. Minutes after the story broke on the Daily Mail website one person commented: ‘People going to see their doctors or a surgeon are often in a vulnerable state. They need to be able to trust the person they are seeing…’. ‘Absolute madness’, said another. And when the story was discussed on ITV’s This Morning viewers took to Twitter to express their shock, with one admitting she’d be worried to take her children to the GP.
So where are these licensed GPs and hospital doctors employed? The information provided to us reveals at least 23 are currently working for primary care and hospital trusts. We provided the full list exclusively to BBC Radio 5 Live for their Drive programme. The trusts are spread across the country, from London to Bristol, to Bolton and Kirklees. Local journalists should check to see if their area is involved, and potentially ask questions of their local trusts.
The issue here is the assessment procedure to see if convicted doctors should, or should not, be struck off. The panel is independent and at the moment, if the GMC disagrees with the decision, it has no right to appeal. A source there admitted to us that, certainly in one doctor’s case, they had argued strongly he should be removed from the medical register. The independent panel found otherwise, and the doctor kept his licence.
The GMC has since moved to strengthen the system, putting it under the control of Parliament, where they are seeking new rights to appeal.
Human rights legislation is an issue. The GMC has previously sought legal advice on whether they could automatically ban a doctor convicted of a sex offence. They were told they couldn’t. It’s always popular for newspapers to blame human rights laws when they can, but in this case it’s understandable that people are asking if the balance between the rights of the convicted doctors and the rights of vulnerable patients is appropriately set.
The GMC source also said they are looking again at trying to bring in an automatic ban.
We should put all of this into context by noting that 237,559 doctors have a licence to practise from the GMC. The 31 of those with convictions for sex offences represents a tiny minority.
But many would argue any risk is too high, and for the worst to happen it only takes one act, and one victim.