The scene

A fifth year medical student called the MDU for advice and support in relation to an investigation by the medical school and GMC concerning allegations that she had not declared a caution to her medical school, or on her application for provisional registration with the GMC.

The student explained that she had been charged with shoplifting when she was 18 years old, after she had applied for medical school but just before she commenced the course, and had accepted a caution.

She said that it had not been deliberate; she had accidentally walked out of a supermarket with some makeup still in her shopping trolley because she’d forgotten to put it on the conveyer belt at the till. She was stopped by a security guard and taken back into the store, and the police had been called. She went on to explain that, had she noticed herself it was still in the trolley, she would have returned to the store and paid for it.

The student was arrested and taken to the police station. She explained what had happened and the police advised her that she could either go to court to defend her actions, or simply accept a caution and that would be the end to the matter. Without seeking any further advice, and encouraged by the police officer, she accepted the caution.

She did not inform her medical school about this and because it was so long ago, she had not declared it on her application form for provisional registration with the GMC. The GMC had now become aware of her caution through their DBS checks and she was facing allegations of dishonesty, as she had not been open and honest with her medical school or the GMC.

The student was understandably very upset, and concerned as to how this would impact on her future career.

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MDU advice

The MDU adviser explained that probity was taken very seriously by medical schools and the GMC as it raised concerns about a future doctor's professionalism.

Patients must be able to trust those working within the medical profession. This means that medical students and doctors, even in their personal life, must have higher standards of behaviour than those in some other lines of work.

The MDU adviser explained that a caution was an admission of being guilty of a criminal offence, and therefore would show up on a DBS check. They went on to explain that medical schools did have an expectation that students applying for the medical course would disclose any cautions for a criminal offence to them.

Similarly, those students already on the course did have a responsibility to inform their medical school immediately if they received a caution or were charged with, or found guilty of, a criminal offence.

In view of the fact that the student had not declared the caution to the medical school when she applied or once she'd started the course, she was advised that it was possible that the medical school may hold a fitness to practise (FTP) hearing. If so, it was important that she was completely open and honest with the medical school and explained what happened.

The adviser explained that the fact she had not declared the caution may be a more serious concern to the medical school than the original incident that resulted in the caution.

Similarly, the GMC were likely to make their own investigations into not only the original incident, but more importantly the reasons why she had not declared the caution to the medical school or the GMC on her provisional registration form.

A caution was an admission of being guilty of a criminal offence, and therefore would show up on a DBS check.

The student was advised to write in to the MDU's team of advisers, providing copies of all the correspondence she had received from the medical school and the GMC relating to this matter and to draft a statement which provided a factual account of the incident and a full explanation as to why she had not disclosed this.

She was advised to review the relevant GMC and Medical Students Council guidance and the GMC's guidance which doctors are expected to follow, particularly in relation to telling the GMC if they have accepted a caution or been charged with, or found guilty of, a criminal offence.

The student explained that she was aware of other student colleagues who had received cautions or been found guilty of other offences, and there was some confusion as to what the medical school and the GMC needed to be made aware of. This included some driving offences, for example, driving without due care and attention or drink/drug driving.

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After discussing this further with the MDU adviser, the student decided that as part of her reflections and remediation she would present a teaching session to her fellow medical students on the subject, having reviewed the GMC's guidance and supplementary guidance, which made clear what needed to be disclosed. The MDU adviser suggested that any other students who had concerns about whether or not they should make declarations should contact their medical defence organisation for advice.

The medical school and GMC completed their investigations and accepted the student's explanations, apologies and insight into the original incident and the reasons why she had not declared the caution to them. Although they ultimately found that her fitness to practise was not impaired, this process did delay her graduation and provisional registration and therefore her start date on the foundation programme.

This article was correct at publication on 13/12/2019. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Dr Kathryn Leask

Medico-legal adviser


Kathryn has been a medico-legal adviser with the MDU since 2007 and is a team leader, trainer and mentor in the medical advisory department. Before joining the MDU, she worked in paediatrics gaining her MRCPCH in 2002 and did her specialty training in clinical genetics. She has an MA in Health Care Ethics and Law, a Bachelor of Law and a Professional Doctorate in Medical Ethics. She is also a fellow of the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine and has previously been an examiner and Deputy Chief Examiner for the faculty exam. Kathryn is currently a member of the faculty's Training and Education Subcommittee.

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