New rules ban sexual relationships between doctors and patients

As part of a comprehensive package of reforms in Britain, healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses and midwives, will be warned against forming sexual relationships not only with patients but also with former patients.

The draft proposals by the Council for Healthcare and Regulatory Excellence concerns the training of medical staff and aims to change medical culture and says health professionals must establish and maintain clear sexual boundaries.

The recommendations come in the wake of a series of high-profile cases where healthcare staff sexually abused patients.

The report has been drawn up by a project team of clinicians, victims of abuse, royal colleges and representatives from healthcare regulatory bodies.

Professor Julie Stone, the council's former deputy director and executive lead on the project, says guidelines alone are not enough to establish a culture in which healthcare staff have a deeply rooted understanding of the damage that can be done by becoming involved with a patient.

In future it is proposed that medical staff will not only be discouraged from any such relationship themselves, but will be encouraged to report colleagues involved in inappropriate behaviour with patients.

Professor Stone says such relationships are not uncommon and how to cope with a patient who expresses sexual interest must be part of the training of medical staff.

Stone says research has shown that even a relationship with a former patient can be very harmful and should be avoided.

The proposals, "Clear sexual boundaries between health professionals and patients", appear in the current issue of Nursing Standard and say that dating former patients will be unacceptable unless contact with them was minimal.

Cases will apparently be judged on their merits but obtaining the consent of a former patient to sex would not excuse a healthcare worker from a charge of abuse and exploitation.

It seems in many cases it has been revealed that the patient was particularly vulnerable and where a doctor or nurse is attracted to a patient they will in future need to recognise that it is in both their best interests to hand over the case to a colleague and seek advice on the matter.

The guidance document is intended to ensure that one set of values applies to all healthcare professionals.

Although doctors have clear rules laid down by the General Medical Council, other healthcare professions have less tangible standards.

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