A foundation year doctor faces an ethical dilemma when called upon for a medical-related favour by a close friend.

The scenario

An FY1 doctor called the MDU for advice about being asked to sign a medical declaration form for a friend.

The declaration related to a sporting event the friend was due to take part in, and was to confirm that participants had no medical reason why they could not be involved. The FY1 was aware that her friend had mild asthma but that this did not interfere with her ability to take part in physical activity and it was very rare for her to use her inhaler.

The form needed to be signed by a registered medical practitioner. The friend was reluctant to ask her GP; as it was outside normal NHS work, she would be charged a fee for the service.

The FY1 asked the MDU medico-legal adviser whether she was allowed to sign the form for her friend.

MDU advice

The MDU adviser referred to the GMC's guidance, which states that when completing or signing forms doctors must make sure that they are not false or misleading; reasonable steps should be taken to ensure the information is correct, and relevant information should not deliberately be left out.

As the FY1 was not involved in the care of her friend, she was not able to confidently determine the seriousness of her asthma and could not be sure that her friend had been completely honest about her symptoms or what treatment she was taking.

As this was a sporting event, any respiratory disease would presumably be relevant and would therefore need to be mentioned, with the friend's consent. If the friend did not consent to this being disclosed, the FY1 would need to make it clear on the declaration that other relevant information did exist, but that she did not have consent to disclose this. The organisers of the event would clearly draw their own conclusions from this information.

Join MDU in your F1 year

The MDU adviser explained to the FY1 that, even where a doctor is very sure that no medical conditions exist, it is not appropriate to sign such a form on behalf of a friend or family member; this should be done by the doctor who has medical responsibility for the patient, such as their GP. To sign the form and give the impression that they were the patient's doctor would be misleading and in breach of the GMC's guidance.

In this particular case, the form stated that the doctor needed to be 'registered' and therefore it was not clear whether a doctor who had 'pre-registration' status with the GMC would be acceptable.

Following the discussion the FY1 doctor let her friend know that, having sought medico-legal advice, it would not be appropriate for her to sign the medical declaration form. The FY1 also made this clear to other friends and family members who thought that she would be able to do this for them in her capacity as a doctor.

When she explained that this would be in breach of GMC guidance and could put her registration and future career at risk, they were very understanding of her position.

This page was correct at publication on 20/02/2017. Any guidance 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.