Good medical practice: new standards for doctors with an emphasis on team working

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive and Registrar of the General Medical Council, introduces the new standards for doctors which focus on building successful teams and positive, open cultures across healthcare.

October 2023
A photo of Charlie Massey, Chief Executive and Registrar of the General Medical Council

In August we published an updated version of Good medical practice, the standards of care and professional behaviour expected of all doctors in the UK. The new guidance comes into effect on 30 January next year. If you work closely alongside doctors, you may find this of interest.

Good medical practice sets out what it means to be a good doctor. It describes how doctors must make the care of their patient their first concern, have a responsibility to keep their knowledge and skills up to date, and a duty to take prompt action if they believe patient safety is compromised. It also sets out standards for establishing and maintaining good partnerships with patients and colleagues, and maintaining trust in the profession by being open, honest, and acting with integrity.

It was first published in 1995 and has been periodically updated since. This is the first major revision of the standards for a decade, and it has taken a huge amount of thought, investigation, listening and learning over the last two years to get to this point.

What we heard when talking to doctors and others in the consultation was that we should be increasing our focus on the behaviours and values which create respectful, fair and supportive workplaces. As a result, this new version has more of an emphasis on teamwork and workplace culture than previous iterations.

This makes great sense in the current landscape. We have a health system facing great pressures, and we know from our research the extent to which some doctors are struggling to cope with additional workload. Doctors, like pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, are having to adjust to changing patient demographics, needs and expectations, and are still dealing with knock-on effects from the pandemic. Things are tough, and we know that doctors - like all healthcare professionals – benefit from feeling supported at work. Building healthy workplaces with positive cultures and dynamics will empower doctors to deliver the best patient care.

While Good medical practice only applies to doctors, we hope that pharmacists and pharmacy technicians who work alongside them will also benefit from this increased focus on building successful teams and positive, open cultures. There are other elements of the guidance that will be of interest. Good medical practice explicitly sets out that we expect doctors to work collaboratively with all colleagues, respecting their skills and contributions. We ask doctors to ensure they treat all colleagues with fairness and respect and be aware of how their own behaviour may influence others, both within and outside their team. It also has a significant focus on continuity and coordination of care, highlighting the responsibility of doctors to contribute to the safe transfer of patients between healthcare providers and between health and social care providers.

There is also a section of Good medical practice dedicated to ‘caring for the whole patient’, that makes clear to doctors their responsibility consider the overall impact of the patient’s treatments, and whether the benefits outweigh any risk of harm. In settling on this we considered carefully evidence we heard about good practice on polypharmacy in order to avoid overprescribing. Overall, we have strengthened the focus on listening to the patient. 

We have travelled some distance from the time when healthcare professionals worked in silos, and the need for multi-disciplinary working is only going to increase. There are still challenges with continuity of care and pressures on everybody’s time and workload can make these hard to resolve. We are urging all doctors working in the UK to take this opportunity to remind themselves what we expect with regard to effective multi-disciplinary teamworking, and why we believe these professional standards will empower doctors to deliver the best patient care. 

We will soon be publishing supporting guidance on a range of areas that build on basic Good medical practice principles and publish research on teamworking. 

At the GMC we are pleased to have a good working relationship with the General Pharmaceutical Council and thank them for inviting us to tell you about this work. Our organisations agree on the value of doctors and pharmacy professionals having strong working relationships - mutual understanding of professional standards can be beneficial in this regard and can lead to better understanding and co-working, all contributing to best care for patients.


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