Risk of suicide under GMC investigation

A doctor under investigation by the GMC is TWENTY TIMES more likely to commit suicide than the general public.

Αυτοκτονία με την λήψη φαρμάκου-δηλητηρίου.jpg

Of the 5,728 doctors subjected to an investigation by the GMC in 2012 AND 2013 (GMC, 2013 & 2014), 13 tragically committed suicide, a suicide rate of 227/100,000* (GMC, 2014). In the general population at that time, the suicide rate was 11.6/100,000 (ONS, 2014); amongst prisoners, the suicide rate was 65.5/100,000 (DH, 2014; MoJ 2013).

The relative risk of dying from suicide whilst under GMC investigation in 2012 was therefore TWENTY TIMES that of the UK general public (19.5 to be precise).

The GMC must urgently review its complaints-handling process to reduce stress on doctors under investigation; many are subsequently exonerated and have no chance of redress for unfounded or vexatious complaints.

Alan Woodall

*95% confidence interval: 100-350/100,000 (adjusted Wald method).

5 thoughts on “Risk of suicide under GMC investigation

  1. Hi Alan. Whilst I’m no apologist for the GMC’s methods of handing complaints, aren’t you making a schoolboy error here of mixing up correlation with cause? Specifically with the phrase “relative risk of suicide DUE TO…GMC investigation”.
    It seems possible, or even likely that the problems leading to investigations of some of these unfortunate colleagues may also be raiding their risk of suicide (mental illness, substance misuse)

  2. Ooh, and another thing. If Ben Goldacre’s thought us anything, it’s to be suspicious of folk, drug companies, campaigners etc using relative risk.
    The risk of suicide is titchy, and when multiplied by twenty, it’s still quite small.
    I’m not trying to undermine your endeavours, but as your representing women and men of science, I think you need to up your game a little!

    1. Thanks again, Dan. Allow me to pass on Alan’s response:

      You are right, of course. The absolute risk is still small. but so is that of a prisoner, yet millions are poured into their suicide prevention, and one might (arrogantly?) argue from a utilitarian perspective that preventing a suicide of a doctor benefits society more than a prisoner does.

      However, would you consider 13 suicide deaths in a town of 7000 in one year a lot? I would. Remember the furore in the press when Bridgend had a spate of suicides. The absolute rate was low.

      We cannot work out the attributable or absolute risk as we do not know the rate of doctors dying of suicide who were not referred. I am well aware of Goldacre and RR with small numbers. The data are imperfect because no one has funded an in depth study into doctor suicides.

      I will not let this distract us from holding the GMC to account. The very fact that no one has bothered to even look at this in the GMC indicates further complacency that it is not their problem.

  3. ” one might (arrogantly?) argue from a utilitarian perspective that preventing a suicide of a doctor benefits society more”
    I suppose that depends on the Dr; If it was Shipman, then, no!
    What this post doesn’t explain is what, if anything is wrong with how the GMC handles complaints.
    Suicides are commoner in Drs under investigation; that may be something to do with flaws in the process, or other obvious factors.
    It would be useful to try and unpick what, if anything the GMC is doing wrong, and how it could improve, rather than this alarmist, and possibly misleading use of stats.
    You could say with above example (13 in 7000) that 0.18% will comit suicide, which seems much less . It all depends on how you spin it

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