by Internet Medical Society
Twenty two junior doctors were investigated by the General Medical Council between 2011 and 2015 over recreational drug use, figures released by the regulator have shown.
From January 2011 to January 2015 the GMC investigated 22 doctors who were less than five years after qualification for alleged recreational drug use. The cases were categorised by the GMC as controlled substances offences, driving under the influence of drugs, mental and behavioural illness (substance misuse), or risks imposed by health (substance misuse). The GMC released the data in response to a request made under freedom of information legislation.
Of the 22 junior doctors 15 were men and seven were women. The drug involved was not recorded in every case, but the data show that six junior doctors were investigated for alleged use of cocaine use and six for alleged use of cannabis. There was one alleged case of a junior doctor taking mephedrone, one involving the anaesthetic propofol, and one involving MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-methamphetamine).
As a result of the investigations nine of the 22 junior doctors were issued with a warning from the regulator, two cases concluded with no action, one case concluded with advice, and in one case the doctor died.
In the remaining nine cases “undertakings” were agreed between the GMC and the doctor. Undertakings are an agreement between the GMC and a doctor about the doctor’s future practice and can include restrictions on the doctor’s practice or behaviour, such as a requirement to abstain completely from the consumption of illicit drugs or a requirement to attend support meetings.
Andrea James, a partner at the law firm Shoosmiths, who specialises in defending doctors before the GMC, said that the doctors investigated by the GMC could have been referred to the regulator in several ways. “If doctors get into criminal difficulty, the police may inform the GMC under a piece of legislation called the Notifiable Occupations Scheme or pursuant to the police’s common law disclosure regime,” she said. “However, many doctors come to the attention of the GMC via concerned colleagues or contacts.”
James said that, in her experience, junior doctors coming to the attention of the GMC as a result of recreational drug use was not uncommon. “I am regularly contacted in relation to very similar cases, almost all involving F1 [foundation year 1] and F2 level doctors involved in using recreational drugs on nights out, most commonly cocaine,” she said. “For those that do come to the attention of the GMC, and that’s a minority, it inevitably results in a protracted and incredibly stressful investigation lasting many months.
“As a lawyer I’m not qualified to comment on the reasons behind recreational drug use among junior doctors, but I understand from my junior doctor clients that it’s pretty socially acceptable among their peers.”