If dishonest plagiarism is discovered there are potential regulatory, employment and other legal consequences.  If investigated by the GMC a doctor can face serious sanctions, erasure from the register cannot be ruled out.

Looking at the half dozen or so cases involving plagiarism that made their way to the Medical Practitioners Tribunal (“MPT”) over a recent 12 month period, most involved directly lifting text from another source without attributing authorship.  The cases may also involve falsely overexaggerating involvement in research or using essay writing outfits to generate academic work.  This handful of cases occurred both in the academic research environment and clinical environment, writing reports and copying tracts of words without attribution can constitute plagiarism.  Dishonesty was a key element in each case causing the investigation and MPT referral.

In academic organisations technology is deployed to check work for plagiarism.   A report will be produced which will identify potentially copied work and the proportion of similarity to any work calculated.  In the work environment copycats might be caught by the other authors who hear of their work being passed off without full attribution.

Good Medical Practice includes provisions which specifically address research.  Paragraphs 67 and 71 of GMP require a doctor to act with honesty and integrity designing research, writing reports and signing documents.  GMP requires a doctor to take steps to check information is correct and not deliberately leave out relevant information.  Additionally, there is GMC Guidance “Good Practice in research and Consent to research” which includes explicit reference (at paragraph 24) to “make sure that research reports are properly attributed”.

Dr F was caught plagiarising work for his thesis 52% of one part was similar to other sources and 86% of another part was similar to other sources.  He unsuccessfully claimed he did not know the meaning of the word plagiarise until his university contacted him and he had for a time sought to pass blame to his supervisors.  The MPT were concerned that had the imitation gone unnoticed he would have secured an undeserved qualification.   It also noted no patients were involved, the copied parts related to discussion not research and he had 20 years unblemished practice.  It concluded he should be suspended for 12 months and it directed a review hearing.

Dr M was suspended for 9 months.  He had won an award for a poster he had presented at a society at which he had inserted his own name at the top and where he was found to have given a false impression of his involvement, it seems he was not involved with the work or surgery to which the poster related.  Dr M also had a long unblemished career, caused no risk to patients and cooperated fully with all investigations with early admissions.

In two other cases the MPT imposed conditions.  This lesser sanction was found to be workable and allowed the doctors to continue working.  The MPT will more likely grant conditions in circumstances where, inter alia, insight can be proven and supervision will be successful.  In Dr R’s case she was erased from the register.  This case however concerned not only two instances of plagiarism but there was an additional breach of patient confidentiality and numerous instances of dishonesty leading the MPT to the sanction of erasure.

In addition to the regulatory concerns there are other practical and legal consequences that may arise.  In one of the cases the doctor was removed from his position and experienced some difficulties securing further work.  Depending on the facts other legal consequences arise which may be difficult and expensive to defend.  If you any queries about your practice please contact us directly for advice on any fitness to practice matters and other legal advice.