"We need new, authoritative public guidance which acknowledges the changes of the last 20 years, maintains the necessary safeguards for the vulnerable against exploitation or coercion, but gives a framework for those who wish to develop proper relationships." In 2011, a poll of 282 GPs by Pulse found that half wanted the rules to be changed to allow them to have relationships with former patients, while 2 per cent admitted they had begun relationships with patients they were still treating.
"I think it was all a bit of an old fashioned idea quite honestly. "They are getting into the 21st century and it's a good updating." Some senior GPs, however, have previously warned that such relationships are always problematic.
Dr Surendra Kumar, a GP who practises in Widnes, Cheshire, said: "Consider the powers of the doctor.
The guidance, issued yesterday, tells doctors they still cannot initiate 'sexual' or 'improper' relationships with current patients, but says they can date former patients, as long as they give "careful consideration" to certain factors.
The updated guidelines outlined in the doctors' handbook Good Medical Practice, and which come into force next month, state: "If you are considering whether to pursue a personal relationship with a former patient, you must use your professional judgment.
It is vital proper boundaries are maintained in relationships between doctors and patients." However, Dr Tony Grewal, a senior GP who practises in West London, said the watchdog "should not limit the capacity of two consenting adults to explore a relationship".Dr Grewal told Pulse at the time: "An absolute ban on sexual relationships with patients or former patients is an unfair limitation on the right to pursue happiness for doctors and patients alike.