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Doctors Health

In this interview, Dr Richard Brennan, Chair of the Medical Council’s Health Sub-Committee discusses the work of the committee and the importance of doctors looking after their own health.

As part of the Application Form for Annual Retention, doctors must confirm whether or not they suffer or have previously suffered from a relevant medical disability that may impair their ability to practise medicine.

What is the role of the Council’s Health Sub-Committee?

Our primary role is to support and monitor doctors with identified health problems to maintain registration.  In 2011, the Health Sub-Committee supported 32 doctors, an increase from 21 in 2010.  The sub-committee is made up of both doctors and non-medics who are involved in healthcare roles that typically deal with the most common types of medical disabilities.  Our role is to offer support as well as ongoing monitoring to ensure a doctor is supported to practise safely.   Doctors may come to the attention of the Medical Council in a variety of ways, including: self-referral, referral by a third party or referral from the Council.

Is it common for doctors to suffer from health problems themselves? 

Doctors are subject to the same illnesses as their patients and could therefore suffer from a range of health problems, such as infectious diseases, neurological disease, mental illness or addictions such as alcohol and drug dependence.  It is estimated that between 1% and 2% of a population of practising doctors may be performing poorly due to illness. There is evidence that doctors with health related problems, especially substance misuse, have good outcomes with the correct interventions, and the Health Sub-Committee is there to support doctors to maintain their registration during illness and/or disability.

What will happen if a doctor answers that they have a relevant medical disability as part of the annual retention process? 

Depending on the answer, the Council may decide that referral to the Health Sub Committee may be appropriate.  In the event that this happens, the doctor would be invited to the Council’s offices to meet with members of the sub-committee to discuss their health issues in confidence.  This could result in a recommendation that monitoring is not required, ongoing monitoring could be put in place, or if the health sub-committee has serious concerns, it may make a recommendation directly to the Medical Council that the doctor is not fit to practise medicine.  It is important for doctors to note that issues relating to a doctors’ health are treated in the strictest confidence.  The identity of individual practitioners with the Health Sub-Committee shall not be disclosed for the purposes of reporting, unless the committee recommends that the doctor is not compliant, or otherwise has concerns that require escalation to the Council.

What additional information should doctors enclose if they confirm they have suffered from a relevant medical disability as part of the annual retention process? 

It would be helpful to provide a medical report from your treating physician which would assist the Council in making the most appropriate decision.

More information about the Health Sub-Committee can be found on the Council’s website.