The RCP’s new Code of Conduct: how we hold ourselves, and others, to account

RCP senior censor and vice president (education and training) Dr Emma Vaux explains the RCP’s new Code of Conduct, which had its first viewing at our 500th anniversary celebration on 23 September, and launched in full on 6 November.

The Code of Conduct has been shaped over the past year, with input from many different stakeholders. There has been a gradual shift in emphasis on the importance and impact of conduct over the last 18 months or so – from the sea change inspired by the #MeToo movement to the increased emphasis on professionalism and role modelling within the medical and other communities.  

Many will also have had personal experience of poor behaviours within the healthcare setting: medicine is certainly not immune to the problem of sexual harassment, as recent articles in the New England Journal of Medicine[1],[2] and the New Statesman[3] will attest.

As one of the leading bodies responsible for setting standards in health and healthcare, it was imperative for the RCP to review its own policies around conduct and to move the college forward into the modern era by creating a specific set of principles that are relevant, simple and powerful, and that align with the new set of RCP values for all staff.

    The Code of Conduct is particularly aimed at those behaviours that are never overt enough to cause a referral to the GMC, but are still incredibly damaging to others and, through their impact, to patient care.

    Dr Emma Vaux, RCP senior censor and vice president (education and training)

    The creation of the new code has been an interesting, as well as timely, project. The code has drawn on, and been influenced by, existing RCP disciplinary and capability policies and procedures, and procedures for the conduct and discipline of fellows and members, derived from bye-law 168, in addition to various other material on conduct and professional behaviours. Careful thought has been put into the wording of the ten principles, and it is hoped that these will resonate with all those linked to the RCP, at all levels: we have a collective responsibility to act as positive role models in this area.

    The Code will be used among the fellowship proposal criteria and at new member and fellow ceremonies, and we hope and expect that the ten principles will become embedded in the culture at the RCP and extend to all those who represent the RCP or work on the RCP’s behalf. These principles aim to remind our members and fellows of the standards that are expected of them: even if most poor or substandard behaviour may not fall under the category of gross misconduct, it can have a profound and lasting effect on both the recipient of such behaviour and those witnesses around them, and can lead to unhappiness both within and outside of the working environment. The Civility Saves Lives movement has some interesting, and disturbing, data on the impact of rudeness among healthcare professionals, including the fact that 38% of those exposed to rudeness reduce the quality of their work, and 48% reduce their time at work.

    Rightly or wrongly, doctors are seen as powerful. The RCP has recognised the importance of holding ourselves to account in our position of authority. Each of us needs to act as a role model for the ten important principles of the RCP500 Code of Conduct, to ensure the best of patient care. These standards are the essence of what the college is all about in the modern era. Members and fellows are encouraged to reflect on and take ownership of their own behaviour and its impact on others: failure to do so is not without consequence, as this may result in concerns being escalated and sanctions applied. We hope that the new code will provide a benchmark for the highest standards of conduct across all RCP functions.  

    Dr Emma Vaux is RCP senior censor and vice president (education and training). You can follow her on Twitter @VauxEmma

    The full interview appears in the December issue of Commentary magazine

    References

    1. Choo EK, van Dis J, Kass D. Time’s up for medicine? Only time will tell. New Engl J Med 2018;379:1592–3.
    2. Jagsi R. Sexual harassment in medicine – #MeToo. New Engl J Med 2018;378:209–11.
    3. Siddiqi N. "Try not to be alone with him ... wear a wedding ring": why hasn’t #MeToo hit medicine?. New Statesman.