The figures, which BMJ Careers obtained through a freedom of information request to the GMC, showed that the majority (91%) of these complaints concerned male doctors.
Doctors who enter into a personal relationship with a patient put their registration at risk and can also expect a high level of media interest should the matter become public.
GMC advice to doctors whose patient has pursued a sexual or improper emotional relationship is that they “should treat them politely and considerately and try to re-establish a professional boundary.” The GMC acknowledges that it may be necessary to end the professional relationship if trust has broken down.
These measures may not be effective for all patients, and a small number of patients will continue to pursue the doctor in the hope of a relationship, perhaps even believing that the doctor reciprocates their feelings.
Both doctors and patients may be responsible for taking the first steps across the professional boundary.
Recognising early warning signs and dealing appropriately with situations or feelings is key to preventing the situation from escalating.
Stress and illness are also sometimes reasons why doctors have acted inappropriately.
Trust is therefore essential: the GMC describes it as the foundation of the doctor-patient partnership.
“Patients should be able to trust that their doctor will behave professionally towards them during consultations and not see them as a potential sexual partner,” it says.
In situations where a patient behaves amorously, doctors also need to be aware of their own feelings.
Matthew Large, a psychiatrist in Sydney, says that doctors may feel flattered, but they should be aware that it is not necessarily a sign of their own personal qualities or attractiveness.