Doctors: Sexting and Flirting with Patients

Doctors: The Law on Sexting and Flirting with Patients

Doctors who Text and Flirt with Patients – the legal ramifications

UK doctors who engage in the sending of sexualised messages to (or who flirt with) their patients are at risk of regulatory censure.

Whose Responsibility is it to Maintain Doctor/Patient Boundaries?

It is for the doctor to maintain boundaries with their patients, at all times. Where a doctor receives a sexual or flirty message, they should usually be tactful in how they respond, not in any way encouraging or positively responding to such a message.

Employer Policies

Many employers have policies that prohibit directly texting a patient, so as to avoid such situations arising. A doctor who texts a patient may therefore be in breach of their contract, and be subjected to disciplinary proceedings. They might also find that they are referred to a fitness to practise hearing by the General Medical Council (GMC) or be otherwise disciplined, such as by way of a warning.

GMC Policies

The GMC has a number of policy guides for doctors, including one on the use by doctors of social media.

GMC Code of Conduct for Doctors

The code of conduct for doctors Good Medical Practice states (at para 53) that:

53. You must not use your professional position to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with a patient or someone close to them.

In the GMC publication Maintaining a professional boundary between you and your patient the GMC guides doctors on when boundaries have been crossed. In particular, the GMC has also published guidance on Ending your professional relationship with a patient, which states:

3. In rare circumstances, the trust between you and a patient may break down, for example, if the patient has:

been violent, threatening or abusive to you or a colleague,

stolen from you or the premises,

persistently acted inconsiderately or unreasonably,

made a sexual advance to you.


Guidance is thereafter given to doctors who find themselves in this situation, which includes informing the patient that they likely cannot act for the patient in such circumstances, and speaking to an experienced colleague or the doctor’s employer about the matter. In most instances, a change of doctor will be straightforward.

DDS has also published an article on the subject of sexually inappropriate doctors, and the implications for a doctor who has themselves crossed the line by sexting and flirting with a patient. Where a doctor has breached boundaries, they will need to look at their conduct and undertake appropriate remediation. Doctors will need to demonstrate how they came to breach the doctor/patient boundary and reflect on how they will avoid repetition in the future.

Where a patient can properly be described as vulnerable or lacking in capacity, the GMC and employer will likely take disciplinary proceedings that could lead to dismissal (in the case of rather than close the case with a warning. The same might apply when a doctor’s conduct has been persistent in pursuing a patient, and where they have exchanged personal images of a sexual nature. Predatory conduct is frequently viewed as particularly egregious by employers and the GMC.

Doctors Defence Service advises doctors who are facing allegations of acting inappropriately. Contact us without obligation and in strict confidence on 0800 10 88 739