Evolution of the Doctors’ Support Group

Talk to Annual Scientific Meeting of Royal College of Radiologists

Friday 13th October, 2023.11.10 am

On behalf of all at the Doctors’ Support Group, which I will call DSG, may I say how honoured we are to receive this recognition of our work.

In this presentation I will give a brief overview of our support roles.

Firstly I must explain my choice of title. For you to fully understand the present role of DSG I need to give you some historical perspective

We start in 1958 with the formation of the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists-which I will call SCP. This became a very powerful society which regarded itself as a ginger group and worked by setting up small study groups to study in depth issues of concern within the speciality and produce detailed reports.

3 years later the first rules for the suspension of doctors were produced in the NHS.

In 1985 the issue of extreme concern was the high rate of suicide among doctors who had been on suspension for years and the Study Group on Suspended Doctors was formed. Its immediate concern was the mental health of these doctors and to make sure they had appropriate support, so this was effectively the start of the Support Group with regular face to face meetings in confidential settings.  The group also started to keep accurate detailed confidential records about suspended doctors in all specialities and produced 2 detailed reports in 1990 and 1998 on this issue. Suspensions were carried out by hospital managers and later NHS Trust managers but there were fewer GMC referrals than there are now.

In a more favourable political climate than today there was close contact with enlightened politicians who used the Study Group data to get legislation passed to limit the length of suspensions.

Data was also presented to the National Audit office about the cost of suspension and the cavalier attitude of Trust managers towards the amount of public money being spent on legal cases against doctors. Unfortunately there was no action taken by the National Audit office about this.  I myself was suspended in 1995 and witnessed the Trust’s powerful legal team in action. The help and advice I got from the group was invaluable.

We are a self help group and offer help, advice and peer support based on our combined experience. Help and advice are offered, but the doctor is not obliged to take it. Of possibly even more importance we can advise what NOT to do. We are not lawyers and are not in a position to give financial help, but for those who are not earning we can suggest lines of employment using their medical knowledge in non clinical ways.

We are not political nor do we campaign as a group.

Any money we receive is by donation and is used on website and Zoom costs. The future use of both our websites is under review at present.

We meet about every 6 weeks for the DSG and about every 8 weeks for the SCP, keeping the meetings separate again.

Minutes/summaries of the meetings are kept in both paper and digital form. An electronic copy is kept securely with names of attendees and the circulated minutes/summaries are anonymised and no places of work are included. The anonymised minutes/summaries are archived for both groups in the Archive of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

2023 is an interesting time. The calls to reform the whole regulatory process, especially the GMC, are getting stronger and getting more into the public domain.

There are calls for external advisors to be called in by Trusts to advise on complaints about doctors and for Trusts to deal with more complaints in house instead of automatically triggering a GMC referral.

Just a few days ago the BMA organised an online conference about Suicide of Doctors after they receive a referral from the GMC and there is a film called Double Jeopardy on You Tube about this.

The treatment received by the doctors who raised correctly their concerns about Lucy Letby has received wide publicity and the investigation of the Trust managers involved regarding a possible charge of corporate manslaughter will hopefully strike fear in many Trust managers and Chief Executives. There is also serious talk about effective training and proper accountability of both Trust Managers and Chief Executives

Dr Pamela J Harper

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