Unless it is an emergency or a Good Samaritan Act then it is likely to be unlawful.

It is a criminal offence to wilfully and falsely pretend to be or use the title of physician, doctor of medicine, licentiate in medicine and surgery, bachelor of medicine, surgeon, general practitioner or apothecary or imply that you are registered under the Medical Act.  If the GMC investigate and believe it to be unlawful they can refer the matter to the police who may bring criminal proceedings.

The definition of what constitutes ‘practicing medicine’ is not provided but there are hundreds of statutory provisions specifying when a doctor has to hold a licence to practice.  The Medical Act itself spells out certain positions which can only be held by those doctors who are fully registered.  This includes physician, surgeon or other medical officer in the naval, military or air service, in any hospital or other place for the reception of persons suffering from mental disorder, in any prison or any other public establishment, body or institution.

The leading High Court cases involving Doctors without licences to practice make it clear that the Courts view holding a licence as a key component of protecting the public by signifying competence.  The cases also show that dishonesty allegations will frequently attach to serious such cases because of the fundamental nature of the licence.

For example in the High Court case concerning Dr N the GMC inflicted a defeat against the Tribunal who decided to only suspend the doctor for 4 months.  In a recent MPTS case Dr K practiced for 9 months without a licence and was erased from the register.  No patients had been harmed, Dr K apologised and there were internal errors letting him undertake clinical work.  Dr T was also erased from the Register by the MPTS for practicing without a licence for over 20 months and they found dishonesty in relation to the allegations.

In the case of Dr P, he was able to successfully defend the GMC’s allegations of practicing without a licence and dishonesty with no action being taken against him by the MPT.  This case however concerned a retired doctor who was only signing Cremation forms and there was genuine confusion over the rules regarding the necessary qualifications.

If you are unfortunate enough to have a sanction of suspension imposed on you following an MPTS hearing then by virtue of s35E(3) of the Medical Act 1983 while suspended you are treated as not being registered.

It is not that all cases of doctors practicing without licences will be subject to GMC Investigations and MPTS referral.  A practitioner could be advised of the law and they may be sent a cease and desist notice.

There may be some circumstances where you will not be practicing medicine despite working in a clinical setting, for example purely academic research not involving patients.  If however the research strays into tests or prescriptions, this is likely to risk activity requiring a licence.  It is also important to consider your employer’s requirements if you work outside the NHS.  You should never falsely feign you hold a licence to practice, this would almost certainly lead to regulatory action against you.

It would be remiss of us not to mention the basic point that there is a distinction between being on the register and holding a licence to practice, you can remain on the register without a licence to practice so long as you are not practicing.

If you have any queries about your licencing or registration position please contact us directly and we can provide advice on your circumstances.