HIV-positive doctors face being struck off: Tougher sanctions introduced for failing to disclose condition

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The Independent Online
DOCTORS carrying the Aids virus could be struck off the medical register if they fail to disclose their condition to colleagues, under revised guidelines issued by the General Medical Council yesterday.

The clampdown follows a spate of scares this year involving British doctors and other health care workers continuing to treat patients after discovering they are HIV positive.

There has only been one reported case world-wide of a health care worker - an American dentist - passing on the virus to a patient. Doctors and nursing organisations point out that the risk of patients infecting health care staff with HIV is far greater. The General Medical Council, which regulates medical practice, disclosed yesterday that it was aware of only 'a handful' of British doctors with HIV. None had come before any of its disciplinary committees for failing to disclose their status to senior colleagues.

Under previous guidance, in operation since 1988, doctors' registration could be suspended by the GMC or they could have conditions attached to their practice. The tougher guidance issued yesterday also substantially increases the duties of doctors whose advice to a fellow doctor with HIV has not been heeded.

In future, they must inform the General Medical Council, or another medical authority, if the advice has been ignored. While doctors carrying the virus were entitled to expect the confidentiality and support enjoyed by other groups of patients, their HIV status can be disclosed 'in exceptional circumstances' to protect patients from possible infection.

Last month, a gynaecologist at the All Saints Hospital in Chatham, Kent, died from a Aids-related illness. Terrence Shuttleworth, 53, had been diagnosed as HIV positive in March. The revelation prompted 10,000 calls from patients he had treated.

The GMC, at the start of its two- day spring meeting in London, also issued a warning to doctors not to prescribe appetite-suppressant drugs or diuretics to people trying to lose weight. Draft advice states that such treatments, prescribed only to private patients, are of no real value and may cause damaging side effects.

Senior council members are understood to have acted following growing anecdotal evidence that appetite- suppressant drugs, which are mainly amphetamine-based, are finding their way on to the black market.

The GMC is telling doctors that only rarely can appetite-suppressants be helpful. Sir Robert Kilpatrick, GMC president, said: 'There is a tendency for (slimming) clinics to concentrate on these drugs alone. But obesity is one of those medical conditions that does not respond well to any particular treatment, because it depends on willpower.'