Intended for healthcare professionals


Sexual relationships between doctors and former patients

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 30 November 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:1132
  1. Julian Sheather, senior ethics advisor (
  1. 1Medical Ethics Department, British Medical Association, BMA House, London WC1 9JR

New guidance gets the balance right in stopping short of a complete ban

In new guidance, the General Medical Council (GMC) has warned doctors to think long and hard before embarking on a sexual relationship with a former patient. It has not introduced a blanket ban, which might have been vulnerable to a human rights challenge, but it is far from permissive. The guidance says such a relationship “may be inappropriate irrespective of the length of time elapsed.”1 The guidance will not please everyone.

Consider the general practitioner in a remote rural practice. The edict could cast the shadow of inappropriate behaviour across any future partner he or she may meet. Surely the medical oath did not include a vow of chastity? Previously the GMC prohibited only relationships with current patients. So what of those relationships already under way? Are these now subject to suspicion? Should doctors in such relationships, as the guidance infers, discuss their relationships with a member of the GMC standards and ethics …

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