Gay doctors to receive apology from medical regulator for being struck off over sexuality

Professor Dame Carrie MacEwen, chaiman of the GMC
Professor Dame Carrie MacEwen, chaiman of the GMC, says the regulator could not be sure of the true number of doctors who faced regulatory action

Gay doctors will receive an apology from a medical regulator for being struck off because of their sexuality.

The General Medical Council (GMC) said it was issuing a formal apology “for taking regulatory action against doctors who, in historic cases, had convictions under now-repealed homophobic laws”.

The GMC, which has regulated doctors for more than 160 years, said it had heard cases against at least 40 medics for engaging, or attempting to engage, in consensual sexual activity and intimacy with other men.

The cases go back to the 1890s and focus on doctors who were subject to fitness to practise proceedings because they had criminal convictions based on their sexuality.

At least eight doctors were struck off the medical register as a result.

The last confirmed case of a medic being struck off was in 1966, although other doctors were issued with warnings.

‘We are truly sorry’

Professor Dame Carrie MacEwen, the chairman, said: “Homophobic laws and attitudes, that were in place into the 1980s and beyond, caused personal and professional harm.

“We compounded that harm when we also took additional regulatory action against those who were on the medical register.

“In some cases that meant the end of a practitioner’s career. For this we are truly sorry.”

Dame Carrie said the GMC could not be sure of the true number of doctors who faced regulatory action “but the impact on every one of them, and on those close to them, will have been considerable”.

She added: “Laws and attitudes have changed in the years since, as has the GMC. These are historic cases, but it is right that we apologise for them.”

In 1967, the Sexual Offences Act was passed which decriminalised private homosexual acts between men aged over 21.

The law was not changed in Scotland until 1980 and in Northern Ireland until 1982.

‘Righting the wrongs of the past’

Dr Duncan McGregor, from Gladd, the Association of LGBTQ+ Doctors and Dentists, said it welcomed the apology.

He added: “This apology is an important step in righting the wrongs of the past and, while the hurt and damage that has been caused to those doctors cannot be undone, it is important to acknowledge past injustices.

“Although the threat of erasure from the medical register due to a doctor’s sexuality no longer looms, prejudice against LGBTQ+ healthcare staff persists to this day.

“This apology represents progress towards justice for those impacted by these historic homophobic laws, and progress for the LGBTQ+ community.

“We hope this gesture brings some measure of solace to those affected doctors and their loved ones.

“It is particularly important to recognise that this initiative came from within the GMC, and we extend our gratitude to members of the GMC’s LGBTQ+ staff network for their work and dedication in helping to bring about this apology.”