GPs told not to vouch for 'couch potatoes' with marathon hopes

Laura Donnelly
GPs should think carefully before signing fitness to participate forms, the MPS said - Getty

GPs should be “cautious” about vouching that their patients are fit to participate in marathons,  their legal advisors have said.

The Medical Protection Society said rising numbers were signing up for high impact events, such as marathons, triathlons and extreme events overseas - including “fat camps” in the desert - when some were simply not fit enough.

The MPS issued its advice after a rise in queries from doctors who said they felt under pressure to sign fitness forms, without enough knowledge of whether the patient really was in good enough shape to cope with the exertion.

A record 253,930 UK applicants registered for a ballot place in Sunday’s London Marathon - and  56 per cent were from those who had never run a marathon before.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, Senior Medicolegal Adviser at MPS said: “It is encouraging to see more people getting involved in sporting activities and challenges, and raising money for charities. While GPs will not want to dampen that enthusiasm they should remain objective when asked to sign fitness to participate forms.

“They must be confident that they have sufficient knowledge about the patient and the nature of the event before deciding whether they can assist.”

The legal expert said GPs sometimes would simply not know enough about the patient’s fitness levels, or the nature of the event, to sign such forms.

Record numbers have attempted to sign up for this year's marathon  Credit: Getty Images 

In other cases, patients were brandishing forms written in foreign languages, expecting GPs to give them the green light without knowing statement they were agreeing with, she said.

Vouching for patients who actually had poor fitness levels could leave GPs open to claims of negligence, and in theory put them at risk of being struck off.

“General Medical Council guidance requires a doctor to do their best to ensure reports they write are not misleading, and says they should not undertake assessments beyond their area of clinical competence,” Dr Bradshaw said.

A history of the London Marathon

The legal expert said GPs should encourage “realistic goals” in those intending to sign up for extreme events after years of sedentary living.

In some cases, GPs could issue a limited statement, saying there are no known health conditions which render the patient unfit to participate.

“Where a patient’s medical history is not straightforward or they are under the care of a specialist, the GP may wish to obtain advice first or refer the patient to a doctor with expertise in sports medicine,” she said.

Doctors were free to refuse requests, stressed MPU, an organisation which represents doctors accused of negligence.  

“There may be occasions where a doctor may decline to assist with completing the form - if it is in a language they do not understand for example. This can be the case when a patient wants to run a marathon in another country,” she said.

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