Contents of a Character Testimonial [GMC/MPTS Cases]

How to Draft a Character Statement in GMC Cases

How to Write a Testimonial for Submission in GMC Cases

This is a How to guide on writing testimonials for use in GMC cases and MPTS Hearings.

The guidance is detailed because you are being asked to provide a testimonial or character statement for submission to a formal, legal tribunal, which might also be used in High Court appeal proceedings.

Your evidence must therefore be appropriate, relevant and admissible.

If you fail to read all of this guidance, your statement may not be helpful, and might actually be harmful.

A character testimonial should cover a doctor’s competence, integrity/probity, and health, where relevant.

As explained in the proforma layout (example 4), a character witness should be informed about the nature of the GMC allegations (findings of fact / misconduct), so that the testimonial can focus on the core issues relevant to the case and be from a sufficiently informed witness. A witness statement that merely says a doctor is a great person is not grappling with the issues before the tribunal.

Witnesses who have known the respondent doctor in the past, or more recently, can provide testimonials. It is usual to have between two and six testimonials, but more can be used if necessary. It is important that the testimonial is not merely a “to whom it may concern” letter, as that generally shows that a doctor has not informed their character witness about their GMC/MPTS case.

The following information might be included in a testimonial (the list is not exhaustive), but sometimes a more bespoke testimonial is needed. We can advise on bespoke testimonial requests. Note that some witnesses might need to give evidence at a hearing, but in any event the GMC will usually seek to verify the identity of the author of the testimonial, as well as gathering information about the witness’s knowledge of the allegations. A doctor should not mislead or coach their witnesses in any way.

Information for Character Witnesses:

Please include, insofar as you can, the following information, where it is relevant. This document is provided for guidance only and you are not precluded from writing the reference in whatever way you choose. You should not treat this document as a questionnaire (the numbered items are merely prompts for guidance purposes), and so you do not need to set out these questions or numbers in your reference. You are not obligated to provide a reference if you would prefer not to. Kindly provide the following details if you are willing to do so:

  1. Your name (both printed and signed). Your address (home or business). If work, you must have appropriate authority to put a testimonial on headed paper. You should not use headed paper where you do not have authority to use it and should state that you are writing in your personal capacity, if that is the case. Add the date that you write the testimonial. Your registration, number or registration PIN, and qualifications, (including teaching qualifications, if you have them), how long you have been qualified in your profession, and your health care experience. The capacity in which you have known the practitioner. If you are their line manager please state this. Include your role, job title(s) and the practitioner’s role (and job title) when you knew or worked with the practitioner. State how long you have known the practitioner.
  2. Explain the opportunities you have had to scrutinise the practitioner’s clinical and other work, their integrity, competence, eye for detail (both written and clinical) and ability to meet the requirements of their post and the needs of patients in their care. Are they competent in their clinical sphere? Does the practitioner know when to call for assistance or seek advice? Are they reasonable in their approach to other staff? Do they have good communication skills? Do they work to protocol? Are they someone you can rely on? Are they transparent in their dealings with others?
  3. When you comment on the practitioner’s general professionalism, consider:  Have you worked closely enough with the practitioner to be able to comment in the way you have? Explain your contact. What occasions or evidence can you cite in support of the things you are saying? Choose your own words that you would use to describe the practitioner’s abilities, and how patients and staff relate to the practitioner.
  4. Add any anecdotes or information about situations that demonstrate the practitioner’s suitability to practise. Please especially comment (from your personal knowledge) on probity, competence, reliability.
  5. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT ELEMENT TO INCLUDE: Look at the GMC Allegation(s) – then state that you have seen them (or been told about them). Do not comment on whether the allegations are true or not unless you are told that the practitioner accepts the allegations or they have already been found proved by the tribunal (in which case you should look at the findings). You are however invited to comment on whether you have had any concerns about similar matters. 
  6. Do not tell the tribunal what to do.  You can however comment on the impact that a sanction would have on the department or unit the doctor works in if they were to no longer be available to work.
  7. See the case law below. When commenting on the doctor and their abilities, insight, remediation, it is essential that a character witness engages head on with the substance of the issue of concern as set out in the allegations / findings of fact / misconduct. A failure to do so leads to testimonials being rejected.
  8. Address the testimonial: ‘For the Attention of the GMC’ but do not send it to the GMC. The reference needs to be sent to the practitioner or their lawyers in the first instance. The testimonial shall be submitted to the GMC’s fitness to practise and interim orders panels (similar to a court) in order for the practitioner’s suitability to practise as a registered professional to be evaluated.
  9. You should add the following declaration and sign the testimonial, if you are happy for your testimonial to be used: 

‘The contents of this statement are true to the best of my knowledge and belief.’

Note: It might constitute a criminal or civil offence or misconduct to sign such a declaration where you know the contents of the testimonial/reference to be false.

Case Law on Testimonials

The Need for Witnesses to Engage with the Core Mischief in the Case

In Dhoorah v Nursing and Midwifery Council [2020] EWHC 3356 (Admin) the appeal court held that the testimonials submitted by a practitioner to their regulator at a review hearing were deficient. It explains that a witness statement is of little value if it does not engage with the true mischief (allegations/findings) of the case.

The appeal court quoted from the NMC panel’s findings:

“The panel had regard to two testimonials provided by Mr Dhoorah’s colleagues, attesting to his nursing skills and team working. However, Mr Dhoorah’s misconduct was not related to his clinical practice. It concerned an abuse of power and sexual assault on a junior colleague. The panel therefore considered that the testimonials did not address the relevant issues.” at para 10 of the appeal judgment, quoted from the regulatory panel’s written determination.

The appeal court directly addressed this issue, and stated (at para 43):

  1. “…the testimonials provided by the appellant failed to engage with the substance of the misconduct that had been found. Although the referees each state that they are “fully aware” of the appellant’s suspension, other than fairly generalised references to team working, neither testimonial addresses the question of professional boundaries (let alone in the context of potential sexual misconduct) or the issue of integrity. Again, given the concerns identified by the substantive panel, I cannot say the SOR panel was wrong to state these were not “relevant testimonials”.

(December 2020)

In short, this case indicates that a reference or testimonial should comment at the very least on whether the conduct complained of has been repeated, and any remediation that has been undertaken (if any), and whether the practitioner has a good understanding of their duties and responsibilities as a consequence of any reflection or remediation. Note the above case relates to one where factual findings had already been made by a previous panel. And so, where, by way of contrast, factual findings have yet to be made by a regulator, it may not be possible for a referee to comment on issues relating to remediation and insight – particularly where a registrant is denying allegations brought against them. In such cases, the author of the testimonial should comment on whether they have had similar concerns about the practitioner (to those set out in the allegations).

Doctors Defence Service represents doctors in GMC and MPTS matters. We can advise on testimonials and character statements, and advise and represent doctors in fitness to practise cases. Call us on 0800 10 88 739 for more information.