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Medical Council Health Sub-Committee Supporting Twenty-One Doctors

10th November 2010:

Medical Council Health Sub-Committee Supporting Twenty-One Doctors

Patient Safety Dependent on Healthy Doctors


The Medical Council has today made available details of the activity of its Health Sub-Committee which is currently giving confidential support to twenty-one doctors, representing 0.1% of the total number of doctors registered with the Medical Council.

Key statistics summarising the work of the Sub-Committee:

  • The doctors currently receiving support from the Sub-Committee have either an addiction problem, some form of a mental illness or an infectious disease.
  • 75% of the doctors attending the Sub-Committee currently are non consultant hospital doctors, 20% are general practitioners and 5% are consultants.
  • Ten doctors are attending as a result of a fitness to practise referral, six were referred by a third party, four doctors have self referred and one was referred by registration.
  • In 2009, 4.2% of complaints processed by the Council's Preliminary Proceedings Committee were health related. Between March 2009 and August 2010, 8% of Fitness to Practise inquires had a finding of relevant medical disability, and a further 3% of inquiries had a finding of professional misconduct combined with relevant medical disability.
  • The usual duration of monitoring and attendance with the Sub-Committee is approximately two years, but varies depending on individual circumstances.

These figures are very much in line with the experience of the General Medical Council in the UK where 47% of doctors who have health restrictions in place have substance misuse issues and 39% have a mental illness. In the UK, the 2009 report of the National Clinical Assessment Service said that 25% of doctors assessed for poor performance had a related underlying health issue.

Commenting on the figures Professor Kieran C Murphy, President of the Medical Council, said "Healthy doctors are an essential component of a healthcare system which prioritises patient safety and that is why the Medical Council is very keen to promote the activities of its Health Sub-Committee".

According to Dr Richard Brennan, Chair of the Health Sub-committee "Certainly there are doctors who do not seek help when they have a health problem and who may, as a result, have the potential to harm their patients. The positive news, however, is that internationally there is good evidence that doctors with health related problems, especially substance misuse, have good outcomes with the correct interventions, balanced when necessary with the involvement of the relevant regulatory authority".

Dr Brennan concluded that: "The message for doctors who have a health difficulty which is impacting or has the potential to impact on their ability to safely treat their patients is that the Committee has a wide range of expertise available to them, especially in relation to mental health issues and addictions. I would strongly encourage any doctor who feels they may benefit from the support of the Health Sub-Committee to make contact, in confidence, with the Medical Council".

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For further information contact:
Ciara McMorrow, Corporate Services
Telephone: +353 1 4983153
Email: cmcmorrow@mcirl.ie

Note to editors:

About the Medical Council

The Medical Council protects the public by promoting and better ensuring high standards of professional conduct, and professional education, training and competence among registered medical practitioners.

How the Health Sub-Committee operates

The Health Sub-Committee monitors and advises the Medical Council about the health of individual doctors, who have relevant "medical disabilities", and who have been reported to, or referred to the Council on the grounds of patient safety. When a doctor is referred to it, and where there is no potential patient risk, the Health Sub-Committee will act, in confidence, to support the doctor in maintaining their registration through their illness and recovery. The Sub-Committee can also provide support to the treating doctor.
Under the 2007 Act, complaints regarding medical disability must be referred to the Fitness to Practise Committee by the Preliminary Proceedings Committee. In cases, where a referral to a 'fitness to practise' results, the doctor can apply for the hearing to be held in private. A third party referral, or self referral to the Health Sub-Committee, is not subject to a fitness to practise procedure, unless there are patient safety issues involved.

The Seventh Edition of the Medical Council's Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners is very clear about the professional responsibilities of medical practitioners regarding their health, and the health of their colleagues. It states that:

"If you are concerned about a colleague's health or professional competence due to misuse of alcohol or drugs, a physical or psychological disorder or other factors, you have an overriding duty to make sure that patients are protected. The best way to support a colleague in such circumstances is to advise them to seek expert professional help or to consider referral to the Council's Health Sub-Committee. However if there is a risk to patient safety, you must inform the Council of your concerns without delay." (Section 45.2)

"If you think you might be infected with a serious communicable disease, you must seek appropriate medical advice without delay and ensure that your condition does not pose any risk to patients or others. The colleague (s) you consult in this regard has a dual role to both help and counsel you and to make sure that you do not pose a risk to patients and others. If such a risk exists, the Medical Council must be informed as soon as possible". (Section 51.1)

"If you become ill, you should seek advice and help from another doctor rather than treat yourself. Even as a doctor you should have your own general practitioner". (Section 51.2)