February 23, 2024

New professional standards are weaponizing ‘kindness’, say some UK doctors 

The General Medical Council, the regulatory body for doctors in the UK, recently updated its guidelines for professional behaviour, “Good medical practice”.

Most news reports zeroed in on the fact that it includes guidelines on sexual harassment for the first time. Doctors, it says, “must not act in a sexual way towards colleagues with the effect or purpose of causing offence, embarrassment, humiliation or distress”.

However, what prompted even more comment may have been its advice to be kind:  “You must treat colleagues with kindness, courtesy, and respect.” But some doctors fear that this will open the door for a tsunami of complaints.

Writing in the BMJ, bioethicist Daniel Sokol welcomed the recommendation:

The heavens will not fall. The current guidance already contains instructions that doctors should treat patients politely, maintain good relationships with colleagues, and treat them with respect. The reference to kindness in the updated guidance serves to remind doctors to apply their skill and knowledge in a manner that respects the dignity, vulnerability, and humanity of their sick patients, while treating colleagues with due consideration. In these times of high stress and low morale among healthcare staff, such a reminder is no bad thing.

However, GP Margaret McCartney, opined that “kindness” was being weaponised:

I used to think that “be kind” was a suitable recommendation for professional practice. I have changed my mind. I think it is dangerous, and will end up being used as a threat against doctors doing necessary things that may appear to be, or are, harsh. Naturally, I am not recommending “unkind” practice, though I do recognise that this is the environment that is normal for many of us to work in, because we are often without the resources to do our job. Rather, the GMC should not make recommendations of this type at all. We should make the care of our patient our first concern. If we feel this needs us to act in ways that could be perceived as “unkind,” then so be it.