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28.07.15

Doctor sexual assault claims on the rise – MDU

Allegations of sexual assault against doctors have increased by 66% in just over a decade according to the MDU.

There were 20 recorded allegations in 2013 compared to 12 in 2003, with a total of 167 allegations over the 11-year period. Most doctors were cleared after investigation.

The MDU took the opportunity to remind doctors that they must maintain clear communication with patients, especially during ‘intimate’ examinations, in order to “avoid misunderstandings”.

Dr Beverley Ward, MDU medico-legal adviser, said: “While in the vast majority of cases the doctor is cleared of any wrongdoing, the investigations into the incident can be prolonged, damaging for the doctor’s career, and distressing for all involved.

“Cases usually arise as a result of a misunderstanding, for example a patient may not understand why a symptom in one part of the body may require an examination of another area. It’s important for the doctor to explain why an examination is necessary and what it involves.”

She added that doctors should be ‘sensitive’ to patient opinions of ‘intimate’ examinations and offer a chaperone if needed. No chaperones were present during the sexual assault allegation cases in 2013.

Dr Ward recommended engaging a medical defence organisation should a doctor become aware of a complaint alleging an inappropriate examination.

The MDU has also compiled a short advice list to help doctors avoid such misunderstandings, including following the GMC’s advice to medical professionals who need to perform intimate examinations.

They must also certify that patients know what is involved in examinations when getting their consent and that doctors be aware that some patients consider routine touching or proximity as intimate, thus requiring a chaperone.

Doctors must give patients privacy to get dressed and avoid ‘light-hearted’ or personal comments and should stop an examination if the patient asks them to.

Records of every discussion with patients should be kept including reasons for the examination and whether the patient accepted or declined a chaperone.

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