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Updated edition of ethical guide published

By Reporter - 01st Nov 2023

Pictured L-to-R at the launch of the Medical Council’s updated ethical guide are: Ms Jantze Cotter, Executive Director of Regulatory Policy and Standards, Medical Council; Dr Suzanne Crowe, President; and Mr Leo Kearns, Chief Executive Officer

The Medical Council has launched the ninth edition of its Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners. The Guide seeks to support doctors by providing principles–based guidance on how to best work in partnership with patients. It covers a wide range of topics and scenarios likely to arise over the course of their professional careers. The Guide is also intended useful for patients as it clarifies the standards of care they should expect from their doctor. 

Following a consultation process with members of the public, doctors, and a range of partner organisations on issues relating to doctors’ professional conduct and ethics, this version amends the eighth edition of the Guide, which was released in 2019. The Council states the Guide reflects international guidance and will be supported by position statements in certain specialty areas, for example, telehealth and prescribing.

It contains new and revised guidance for doctors on areas including: 

  • Broadening of guidance on communicating with the public, including social media 
  • Guidance for doctors acting as expert witnesses
  • Guiding Values and Principles in managing situations with patients, covering honesty, integrity, putting patients first, treating patients with dignity and respect 
  • Updated section on responsible use of health resources, and advocating for patients and services
  • Use of the terms ‘must’ and ‘should’ and ‘judgement’
  • Guidance for doctors on professional conduct and professional ethics, with doctors encouraged to seek other sources of guidance to inform their practice, including national, international, and organisational standards and policies, clinical and specialty specific standards and guidelines

To coincide with the launch of the Guide, the Medical Council is also publishing public opinion research, which seeks to understand public attitudes towards and experience of doctors, and the extent to which the public is taking an active role in their healthcare. It reveals insights on trust in the medical profession, personal health, and public opinion about what doctors should and should not do:

  • Doctors ranked second highest (after Teachers) as the most trusted profession in Irish society, with 9 in 10 people (89 per cent) trusting their doctor to tell the truth
  • While 94 per cent of adults are registered with a GP or GP practice, one in four individuals (25 per cent) report not having visited their GP in the past year, a notable increase compared to 15 per cent in 2020. Additionally, there has been a substantial decrease in the number of individuals visiting their GP as frequently
  • However, the use of telemedicine services has significantly increased, with around one in four (24 per cent) of adults accessing these services, including 21 per cent who have used GP services through telemedicine, a marked increase from 2 per cent in 2020. Telemedicine usage is highest among 35–49 year-olds, and those residing in Dublin
  • 9 per cent have used social media to seek guidance from a doctor who uses their social media platform to provide medical advice
    • Of those who have used social media in this way, 11 per cent say that they checked if the doctors were registered

The Medical Council appointed an ethics committee to specifically review and advise on any required edits to the Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners. The committee, chaired by Medical Council President Dr Suzanne Crowe, presented its recommendations to the full Medical Council which has now updated the Guide. 

Speaking at the launch of the Guide in Dublin, Dr Suzanne Crowe said: “We are delighted to present the updated Guide to doctors, patients and the wider public today. Its revisions and new additions reflect the most current, pertinent, and inclusive guidance on a wide range of scenarios that impact the medical profession.”

“Our public opinion research shows that doctors continue to be among the most trusted professions in Ireland. This is a privilege, and one we do not take for granted. 

“I would like to thank the ethics committee and our stakeholders for their active involvement, and to the public and medical community for their invaluable feedback during the process of updating the Guide”, Dr Crowe concluded.

Ms Jantze Cotter, Executive Director, Head of Regulatory Policy and Standards, Medical Council added: “As the regulator of medical practitioners, the Medical Council’s remit is to protect the public by promoting and ensuring high standards of professional conduct and professional education, training, and competence among registered medical practitioners.

“As doctors and as patients, we look to those we trust to lead us. This Guide aims to support doctors in caring for patients. It is there for doctors to refer to throughout their professional career, providing principles-based guidance on possible scenarios. We hope that doctors feel supported and that the Guide helps to clarify the Medical Council’s advice in areas which may have previously been unclear.”

The Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners is updated by the Medical Council approximately every five years.

The Ninth edition of the Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners can be found here. The edition’s guidance will replace the current edition in January 2024.  

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