A doctor has worked as a GP for many years. He goes to a patient's home to deliver a letter and ends up having sex with the patient. The doctor realises what he is doing is a mistake, apologises for his actions straight away and admits what has happened to his regulator. The General Medical Council's ethical guidance states that doctors should not engage in an improper relationship with patients. Should the doctor receive a warning, be suspended, be struck off, or face no action?
This was the real-life scenario John Smyth, an assistant director at the General Medical Council, presented to attendees at a Law Society panel discussion on complaints, apologies and admissions this week. No one thought the doctor should be struck off. Nearly half thought the doctor should receive a warning; nearly half thought the doctor should be suspended. 'It did not impair his ability to practise,' one attendee said. 'The fact he admitted his fault shows he is being very honest,' another remarked.
Smyth then told attendees to replace the words 'doctor' and 'patient' with 'solicitor' and 'client'. He asked: 'Does your regulator care about you having sex with your client? What harm has been done? Is it abusing a position of trust?'
One attendee said: 'I think it depends on the nature of the instructions clients have given to the solicitor. It might be a long-standing commercial relationship... It does not seem to me, if it's consensual sex, we have an ethical problem.' However, another attendee commented: 'If the solicitor is representing someone [affected by] domestic violence, then I think it's different.'
The issue of solicitors having sexual relations with clients was discussed at a Solicitors Regulation Authority briefing on Wednesday. Such a rule would be difficult to police, executives said. There are already protections in place, such as conflict of interest rules and a duty to act in the client's best interests. Ultimately, if people want to have a relationship, assuming SRA principles are adhered to, who is the regulator to say no?
Do you think the regulator should ban solicitors from having sex with a client?
(In case you were wondering, the doctor was suspended.)