It has never been so important to ensure that those treating patients during a pandemic work within the limits of their competence.
It is undeniable that the pressure on the health system at this time is extreme. There have been massive changes in such a short period of time. Retired doctors have returned to the register and students have stepped up.
It was recently reported that an experienced consultant in an unrelated speciality had stepped into the role of an FY1 to help patients suffering from the effects of COVID-19. Everyone is doing their bit, but the difficulty is that many doctors may find themselves in unfamiliar environments and acting out of their usual area of expertise. Out of their comfort zone, so to speak. It is so important not to stray outside of your area of competence, even during these difficult times.
The GMC has acknowledged that doctors “may need to depart, possibly significantly, from established procedures in order to care for patients”. It is unclear what exactly is meant by departing from established practices. However, the GMC will expect doctors to use their professional judgment and always work within the limits of their competence.
The GMC has also advised doctors to stick to the basic principles of being a good doctor and continue to follow GMC guidance. It is important that doctors will not face disproportionate criticism by the GMC. The GMC has published guidance about how they will regulate during these difficult times, including confirmation that they will take the challenging circumstances in to account when considering any complaints made during the outbreak.
As a doctor, you must be able to identify your level of competence and ensure you always work within that level of competence. If you are asked to undertake a task, which you have not completed previously or a task that is not one you would normally be required to complete, and you feel that this may put patients at risk, you must inform your colleagues and explain that you do not have the appropriate experience or qualification for such a task. Where possible, additional training, guidance and supervision may be helpful.
Ensuring you are in good health, both physically and mentally, is also important. This cannot be underestimated during the current pandemic. If you are unwell, this may directly affect your ability to practice competently. During these challenging times, you have a duty to ensure you care for yourself, ensure you are aware of, and follow current guidance appropriately.
Although all healthcare professionals are working under significant pressure, now more than ever, it remains vital to know and work within your limits of competence. You can and must refuse to undertake a task, which is out of the scope of your competence, as this may place patients and yourself at risk. In the event that you face any difficult situations, a clear and accurate record of the incident must be recorded in the appropriate place, usually the relevant patient’s medical record.