Date Published: 2 February 2007

GMC launches draft guidelines for doctors on acting as an expert witness and writing references (UK)

The General Medical Council (GMC) has published two important pieces of draft guidance for consultation. Acting as an Expert Witness explains how the principles set out in the GMC’s core guidance, Good Medical Practice apply to the work of the medical expert witness; and Writing References addresses common questions about the information that doctors should include when writing references for professional colleagues. The GMC are calling on all interested parties, especially the medical profession, to let them know whether the draft guidance suits their needs.

Doctors are frequently called upon to write references. Accurate and honest references are key to prospective employers recruiting the right person for the job and candidates also need to be confident that references written about them are accurate and reliable. Inaccurate references could lead to an unsuitable candidate being appointed, which in some cases could put patients at risk of harm.

  • Writing References aims to ensure that doctors are aware of their duty to provide information about a candidate’s professional competence, their conduct and any other information that could put patients at risk. Personal information, for example regarding a doctor’s health, should also be included where it is judged to be necessary to protect patients from risk of serious harm.
  • Acting as an Expert Witness includes advice for doctors on giving evidence, keeping knowledge up-to-date, how to deal with conflicts of interest and when to raise concerns about other doctors. The main principles emphasise practising within the limits of professional competence, explaining where there is a range of opinion and verifying data accuracy. The draft guidance also stresses that for doctors to be competent as an expert witness they must understand the framework of law for the area they work in, must be up-to-date in their discipline and understand how to construct a court report and how to give oral evidence.

Professor Sir Graeme Catto, GMC President said:

We hope that these documents will provide useful clarification for doctors about the GMC’s expectations of them. We encourage everyone who has an interest to respond.

_ This consultation is part of the GMC’s wider effort to provide supplementary guidance for doctors on specific issues. The guidance on expert witnesses is supported by the recent Court of Appeal decision to uphold the view that the public must be confident that doctors and other professionals, who give evidence in court proceedings, can, if necessary, be held to account by their regulator. This document will aid doctors in their role assisting the court and the public interest.

To read the draft guidance and respond to either of the consultations that are due to close on Monday 26 March 2007 please go to:


Source: General Medical Council (GMC).

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