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Medical Council President reminds doctors of ethical responsibilities

Following the publication of research earlier this week relating to the high proportion of surveyed doctors who self-prescribe medication and prescribe for family and friends, the Medical Council is reiterating its guidance to doctors on their prescribing practices.

Speaking following the publication of the study in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the President of the Medical Council Dr Rita Doyle said: “My message to doctors is clear and simple. You have an ethical responsibility to look after your own health and wellbeing. You should not treat or prescribe for yourself. It is vital that every doctor has their own GP.”

“What concerns me most is that the majority of these doctors are young, in the early stages of their careers, and are falling into a dangerous practice of self-prescribing and/or prescribing for family and close friends.” 

“I am extremely worried that 7.2 per cent of respondents admitted to self-prescribing benzodiazepines and 4.5 per cent admitted self-prescribing opioid pain relief. Both of these drug categories are highly addictive and should only be prescribed by your treating doctor as part of an agreed treatment plan with regular follow up.”

“I am well aware of the pressures and struggles that many young doctors face working in a health service under increasing strain, as evidenced by our research into trainee experiences in the Your Training Counts reports.”

“Just like everyone else, doctors can also fall ill or experience times of poor mental health. This is why it is vitally important that doctors look after their mental and physical health and ensure they have their own GP. A doctor cannot care for patients unless they care for themselves.” 



“My message to the friends and family members of doctors is: do not ask them to prescribe for you. It is unfair to put them into a situation which is in conflict with their ethical responsibilities. Only your own treating doctor should prescribe for you as a patient.”

The Guide to Professional Conduct and Ethics for Registered Medical Practitioners states:

58 Health and wellbeing of doctors 

58.1 You have an ethical responsibility to look after your own health and wellbeing. You should not treat or prescribe for yourself. You should have your own general practitioner, who is not a member of your family, and you should be vaccinated against common communicable diseases.

60 Treatment of relatives 

60.1 You should not treat or prescribe for members of your family or others with whom you have a close personal relationship except in emergencies. You must not prescribe controlled substances for them or issue sick certificates or reports for them except in emergencies.

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