GP Code of Practice in the UK

After completing what it takes to become a general practitioner (GP), what guidelines must GPs follow when they are practicing? Patients should be able to completely trust medical professionals with their health, so it is important GPs always provide the highest level of care at all times.

To ensure they always provide the level of care expected in the UK, GPs must follow the GP Code of Practice.

Knowledge, skills and performance

As part of the GP Code of Practice, doctors must always put the care of a patient first. To achieve this, professionals must be competent in all aspects of work. They must remain up-to-date with the latest skills, knowledge and practices. Doctors must take part in activities that maintain and develop competence and performance. They should also take part in structured support opportunities, such as mentoring, whenever they join an organisation or significantly change roles.

Doctors are individually accountable for their actions, so they should also be honest and work within their own limits. They must also have good knowledge of the English language to provide a good standard of practice in the UK. When assessing, diagnosing or treating patients, they must adequately assess a patient’s conditions while taking account of their history; including symptoms and psychological, spiritual, social and cultural factors. Suitable advice must be provided or arranged promptly, and the patient must be referred to another practitioner if it suits their needs.

When providing clinical care, doctors must only provide drugs or treatment once there is adequate knowledge of the patient’s health and needs. The treatment must be the most effective option based on the available evidence, and all steps must be taken to alleviate pain and distress. If needed, they must consult colleagues where appropriate and respect the patient’s right to seek a second opinion. All care or treatment for each patient must be compatible with other treatments the patient is receiving, including self-prescribed where possible. Doctors must also avoid providing medical care to themselves or anyone close to them, where possible.

Records of a doctor’s work must be clear, accurate and legible, and created during the same time as events being recorded or as soon as possible afterwards. They must also follow data protection law requirements, by keeping recording containing personal information secure. Clinical findings should include relevant findings, decision made and actions agree (including who is making them), information given to patients, any drugs or treatment prescribed, and who is making the record and when.

Safety and quality

All GPs must take part in systems of quality assurance and quality improvement to promote patient safety. This includes taking part in regular reviews and audits, address problems and carrying out training where necessary. The standards of practice and care provided should be regularly reflected on, and patient feedback must be reviewed where it is available. To help keep patients safe, doctors must contribute to confidential inquiries and adverse event recognition. Incidents involving medical devises that could put a patient or another person at risk must also be reported.

Every patient wants to feel safe and protected when confiding in their healthcare provider, and GPs play a big role in this. A doctor must act immediately if they think an individual's safety, dignity or comfort is being compromised. Healthcare professionals have a responsibility to protect and promote the health of patients and the public. If a patient is not receiving basic care to meet their needs, it must be reported immediately to someone who can act on it straight away. Similarly, if a patient is at risk because of inadequate premises, equipment or other resources, policies or systems, the matter should be put right if possible. If a doctor has concerns a colleague may not be fit for practice and putting patients at risk, they must ask for advice from a colleague, their defence or the General Medical Council. Should there still be a concern, they must report it.

If an emergency arises in a clinical setting or within a community, such as a cardiac arrest, a doctor must offer help while taking account of their own safety, competence and availability of other options of care.

A doctor must consult a suitably qualified colleague if they know or think they have a serious condition which could be passed on to patients or impact their judgement or performance. Advice given by the colleague must be followed and they must not rely on their own assessment of the risk to patients. Doctors must also be immunised against common serious communicable diseases, and should be registered with a GP outside of their family.

Communication, partnership and teamwork

GPs and their practices must maintain good communication with patients and staff at all times. If a patient is listened to, they can be provided with better care. Additionally, information must be communicated to patients in an accessible way. GPs are healthcare experts, and patients look to you for help, so do not overcomplicate things. In any case, GPs must support patients in caring for themselves which will help them improve and maintain their own health. GPs must also be considerate to those close to the patient and be sensitive and responsive in giving them information and support. When on duty, doctors must be readily accessible to patients and colleagues seeking support.

Doctors must also work collaboratively with their colleagues, treating them fairly and with respect. At all times, they must be aware of how their behaviour may influence other within and outside the team. If a doctor hands in their notice, they must work their entire notice period to avoid any impact on patient safety.

Doctors should be prepared to contribute to teaching and training doctors and students and must ensure there is appropriate supervision for any stay they manage. When writing references, doctors must be honest and objective. They should also be willing to mentor junior doctors and other healthcare professionals. They must also support colleagues who have problems with their performance or health, but patient safety must always come first.

They must contribute to the safe transfer of patients between health or social care providers. This includes sharing relevant information with colleagues involves in a patient’s care within and outside the team. This also applies when going off duty and when delegating care or referring patients to other health or social care providers. Doctors must be satisfied that a person providing care for their patient has the appropriate qualifications, skills and experience.

Patients must always be treated politely, considerately, fairly and with respect whatever their life choices and beliefs. They must also be treated as individuals and their dignity and privacy must be respected. Doctors must work in partnership with patients, sharing information they will need to make decisions about their care. This includes their condition, the progress of their care, who is responsible for each aspect of care and how information is shared, and any other information patients need if they are asked to be involved in teaching or research.

Information about a patient must be treated confidentially, including when they die. Doctors must explain to patients if they have a conscientious objection to a particular procedure. Patients must be informed of their right to see another doctor and be provided with enough information to do so. If necessary, doctors must make sure arrangements are made for another suitably qualified colleague to take over their role.

Maintaining trust

Importantly, a member of the public must always be able to trust their GP. Therefore, doctors must be honest and open and never abuse an individual’s trust in themselves or the profession. This means they must admit if things go wrong and should put matters right if possible, offer an apology and explain what has happened and the implications. They must also never discriminate against patients or other colleagues. Doctors must not use their professional position to purse a sexual or improper emotional relationship with a patient or someone close to them. They must not express any personal beliefs in ways that exploit a patient’s vulnerability or cause them distress.

Patients must be given priority based on their clinical need if these decisions are within the doctor’s power. Any investigations or treatments provided or arranged must be based on the assessment and doctor and patient has made about their needs and priorities. They must also take into account their clinical judgement about the likely effectiveness of the treatment options. Treatment must not be refused or delayed if it’s believed a patient’s actions or lifestyle has contributed to or caused their condition. Treatment must also not be denied to patients because their medical condition may put the doctor at risk. All available steps should be taken to minimise risk before providing treatment, or other suitable alternative arrangements should be explored.

Doctors must consider and respond to the needs of disabled patients and should make reasonable adjustments to their practice where possible. Complaints must be responded to promptly, fully and honestly, and apologies should be made if necessary. A complaint must not affect their care or treatment of the patient. Insurance or indemnity cover must be adequate so patients will not be disadvantaged with the clinical care provided to them.

All communication with patients and colleagues must be honest and trustworthy, therefore making clear the limits of a doctor’s knowledge. Patient confidentiality must be maintained at all times. All information published about a service must be factual and can be checked. If a doctor is giving evidence to courts or tribunals, all information must be honest and trustworthy. The General Medical Council must be notified if a doctor has been cautioned by police or criticised by an official inquiry, been charged or found guilty of a criminal offence, or if another professional body has made a finding against your registration as a result of fitness to practise procedures. Any suspensions or restrictions relating to a doctor or their practice must be made clear to any other organisation or individuals they carry out medical work for.

To find more information, read the General Medical Council’s booklet on Good Medical Practice.

If you are in the process of becoming a GP, MCG Healthcare has valuable information for your journey. Whether it’s about the application timeline or what to expect during an interview, visit our blog for more advice.

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