To explore the views of sick doctors on their experiences with the General Medical Council (GMC) and their perception of the impact of GMC involvement on return to work.
Doctors who had been away from work for at least 6 months with physical or mental health problems, drug or alcohol problems, GMC involvement or any combination of these, were eligible for inclusion into the study. Eligible doctors were recruited in conjunction with the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund, the GMC and the Practitioner Health Programme. These organisations approached 77 doctors; 19 participated. Each doctor completed an in-depth semistructured interview. We used a constant comparison method to identify and agree on the coding of data and the identification of central themes.
18 of the 19 participants had a mental health, addiction or substance misuse problem. 14 of the 19 had interacted with the GMC. 4 main themes were identified: perceptions of the GMC as a whole; perceptions of GMC processes; perceived health impacts and suggested improvements. Participants described the GMC processes they experienced as necessary, and some elements as supportive. However, many described contact with the GMC as daunting, confusing and anxiety provoking. Some were unclear about the role of the GMC and felt that GMC communication was unhelpful, particularly the language used in correspondence. Improvements suggested by participants included having separate pathways for doctors with purely health issues, less use of legalistic language, and a more personal approach with for example individualised undertakings or conditions.
While participants recognised the need for a regulator, the processes employed by the GMC and the communication style used were often distressing, confusing and perceived to have impacted negatively on their mental health and ability to return to work.