Doctors should be protected from allegations of improper behaviour by ensuring their practice has a chaperoning policy in place, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has advised.
Chaperones can offer an independent account of events if a complaint is made by a patient, although they do not guarantee protection against allegations, the MDU said.
Complaints are uncommon, the MDU said, while findings of guilt are rarer still, but when complaints are made it can be "very distressing for the doctor". Confusion among staff over when a chaperone can be offered could be avoided by having a policy in place, the group said.
It recommended chaperones be offered routinely for intimate examinations, such as of the breasts or genitalia, while it added good communication could help avoid misunderstandings.
The consent discussion, along with the identity of the chaperone or if one was declined should be recorded by doctors, who should try to use a chaperone of the same gender as the patient when possible, the MDU recommended. Chaperones should be in a position to see the patient and how the examination is being carried out.
MDU medico legal adviser Dr Emma Cuzner said: "It is important that hospital trusts and general practices have clear policies in place covering, for example, when to offer a chaperone, who can act as a chaperone and what to do if a chaperone is refused, and that staff performing clinical examinations are aware of the policy."
Copyright © Press Association 2010
Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"I totally agree. I provide such training and time and again I'm told by delegates the 'chaperone' has to remain outside the curtains and therefore is NOT chaperoning. Any GP who records that a chaperone has been used is actually not being accurate. As with all training providers there are good and less good-some PCTs and reps offer a scant hour's training so my advice to PMs (as an ex-PM of 25 years service) is to make sure you get good training for this staff role – you may have to pay a little but the offset against the personal costs in time and the possible reputation loss even in an unproven allegation it will always be money well spent" – Pauline Webdale, Norfolk
"Practices should cover themselves by ensuring that chaperones are always used in potentially vulnerable situations, not only to protect the healthcare professional, but also to protect the patient. Recording the procedure is also crucial as allegations could be raised long after the 'alleged' incident. Posters outlining the service should be placed where they are clearly visible that way the patient is informed that they can request a chaperone if they feel the need" – Name and address withheld