Assuming they have not properly informed colleagues it risks being misconduct and leading to finding of impairment.  Such lapses of themselves would probably not warrant regulatory action but allied with other FTP issues, the Medical Practitioner Tribunals (“MPT”) have held it to be misconduct.

The MPT have given judgments in at least two cases recently where the issue has arisen.

Dr J was absent from work while on call during her shift, non-contactable for a time and did not answer her bleep on one occasion.  On a second occasion the same thing happened but she was found asleep, and a on a third occasion left the hospital site while on call.   The Tribunal found the behaviour was serious both individually and cumulatively, they reasoned that it put patients at risk of serious harm.  The doctor candidly accepted the public would be horrified by her actions.  After being investigated, referred to the MPTS and several days of hearing the doctor’s fitness to practice was found to be impaired and agreed undertakings were accepted.

Dr S went missing from A&E and after 2 hours was found in the changing room, lying down on a bench, wrapped in a blanket with her eyes closed.  It was the first occasion the Senior Sister could recall a doctor going missing on A&E, she was looking for Dr S for half an hour and made three or four tannoy announcements.  The doctor argued that whilst waiting time targets had been breached there were no clinical detriments to patients.  The MPT determined that continuity of care was breached and there was the possibility of harm to patients.  Evidence was given that another doctor explicitly required information on a patient while Dr S could not be found.  The MPT found a breach of 34, 35 and 37 of GMP (being readily accessible to patients, working collaboratively with colleagues and being aware of how your behaviour affects other within and outside the team) and that the doctor’s FTP was impaired.

It is important to point out that in both cases there were additional allegations and the sleep issue alone was not the immediate cause of the GMC investigation.  It would be reasonable to expect a degree of empathy and understanding from colleagues.  Had Dr J or Dr S informed someone they needed some time, then it is hard to see how any FTP issue could have arisen.  Where a doctor has a health issue which affect their work they should raise it and expect confidentiality and support locally rather than escalation to the regulatory process.