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Sessional GPs: the medico-legal risks

Sessional GPs are in a unique position that could expose them to more medico-legal risk than other GPs.

Unlike permanent GPs, sessional GPs often only have one opportunity to make a good first impression, and a bad impression can provoke some patients to seek redress, when, in most cases, there has been no human error.  If a patient regards a doctors manner as abrupt or heavy-handed, they may become dissatisfied, which, in our experience, gives rise to more complaints and claims.

Most incidents leading to medico-legal problems fall into one of the following categories:

•Failure of communication, including inadequate medical records.

•Failure to appreciate legal and professional responsibilities

•Problems in clinical management

•Medication errors

•Administration errors.

There are a number of actions that sessional GPs can pursue to minimise the risks they face in general practice.  This is not an extensive list, but it can be used as a starting point:

•Address unrealistic expectations: Practices and sessional GPs need to develop a shared understanding of how to work together effectively.  Discuss the realities of being a sessional GP: a safe sessional GP may need longer to consult patients.

•Be proactive in sharing information: Encourage practices to provide a sessional GP information pack containing local information, such as the practice-based services, secondary care and support services.

•Join a sessional GP support group: sessional GPs can become professionally isolated and it is easy to let professional development slip.  Joining a group will allow you to share clinical and practical problems.

•Develop your own systems: By creating your own safety checklist for handovers and information transfer you will safeguard your practice.

•Clear objectives: Before you start at a practice be clear about what you will and wont do.

•Get feedback: Performance feedback is essential for good risk management. Dont wait for it, ask for it.

MPS has launched an annual magazine called 'Sessional GP', which combines medico-legal advice with practical guidance on how to avoid problems commonly encountered by sessional GPs.  Members can also contact the MPS 24-hour medico-legal advice line if they encounter any problems: 0845 605 4000.

Here is a link to the digital edition:


Sara Williams is editor of 'Sessional GP' and a writer and editor at MPS.


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