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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 April 2007, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Dating rules for healthcare staff
Doctors and nurses
Doctors and nurses may not be allowed to date ex-patients
Doctors and nurses may be banned from dating former patients unless the contact between them was minimal, according to new draft guidelines.

The recommendations follow a series of high-profile cases where healthcare staff sexually abused patients.

The proposals, the first of their kind, are expected to go before ministers in June, reported Nursing Standard.

The Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence said professionals had a duty to report inappropriate behaviour.

The Department of Health commissioned the report on 'Clear Sexual Boundaries Between Health Professionals and Patients' from the CHRE after three national inquiries found serious failings in the handling of cases of sexual abuse of patients.

When professionals abuse their position of trust it can have devastating and long-lasting effects, especially in vulnerable patients
Professor Julie Stone

Dr Clifford Ayling, a GP, was convicted of sexually assaulting women patients over a number of years and Dr Peter Green, also a GP, was found guilty of nine counts of indecent assault.

In 2005 the Kerr-Haslam inquiry found that allegations of indecent assault against two psychiatrists from North Yorkshire were often ignored by NHS consultants.

Clear boundaries

The draft guidance states that health professionals must establish and maintain clear sexual boundaries.

Professionals attracted to patients should seek advice from a colleague and may have to hand treatment over.

The report also warns that obtaining a patient's consent does not justify a sexual relationship.

Although cases should be judged on an individual basis, the recommendations state that relationships are unprofessional if the patient is exploited, was vulnerable or the professional relationship was terminated to start a sexual relationship.

The report, drawn up by a project team of clinicians, victims of abuse, royal colleges and representatives from healthcare regulatory bodies, also states that all healthcare professionals have a responsibility to report inappropriate behaviour.

Separate documents have been produced by the CHRE for patients and employers.

The General Medical Council published a Code of Conduct for doctors last year and said they had been working with the CHRE to ensure all the guidance was consistent.

Under GMC rules, doctors should not use their professional position to pursue relationships.

But they state: "if exceptional circumstances arise in which social contact with a former patient leads to the possibility of a sexual relationship beginning, you must give careful consideration to the nature and circumstances of the relationship".

Harmful

Professor Julie Stone, executive lead on the CHRE Clear Boundaries project said research had shown that even a relationship with a former patient can be very harmful and should be avoided.

"When professionals abuse their position of trust it can have devastating and long-lasting effects, especially in vulnerable patients.

"It's always the professional's responsibility to set clear boundaries.

"We really want to change the culture so professionals know they have to act if colleagues are acting inappropriately."

A spokesperson for the British Medical Association said: "As a general principle, sexual relationships or emotional dependence between doctors and their patients or the close relatives of patients must be discouraged.

"Doctors who discover that a person with whom they are developing a personal or sexual relationship is also their patient should immediately cease the relationship or take reasonable steps to ensure that medical care is provided by another practitioner.

"However we would be very concerned if the GMC ruled out completely any relationship between a doctor and an ex-patient."




SEE ALSO
Sex abuse report critical of NHS
18 Jul 05 |  North Yorkshire

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