Updated: August 20, 2020
Yes, it may be possible to reject an offer that you previously accepted provided you speak to the department early on.
However, if you leave it too late, this can be seen as a sign of unprofessionalism and there is a risk of being referred to the GMC for professional misconduct.
Why would you be referred to the GMC?
The GMC has a professional code of conduct called Good Medical Practice that all doctors must follow. In Domain 3 – Communication, partnership and teamwork under the section “Working collaboratively with colleagues”, it clearly states your obligation as GMC-registered doctor:
There are a few things to clarify here:
What constitutes formal acceptance?
Acceptance of the job offer through email, in person, or over the phone is enough to constitute formal acceptance. Basically, however you said yes is still a yes.
What if I haven’t signed anything?
Most of the time, you will not sign anything prior to starting the job. Contracts are usually only given after you’ve started. So acceptance of the job offer through email or over the phone is enough to constitute formal acceptance.
What if the hospital has reasonable time to make other arrangements?
You can find out by talking to the department. Discuss this with them as early as possible – good communication is key.
There are 3 main possible outcomes:
- They may allow you to withdraw with no consequences.
- They may allow you to withdraw with conditions, such as asking you to pay back any fees they incurred in the process of employing you. OR
- They may tell you that it’s too late and you can no longer withdraw. In this case, you’d need to start the job and then hand in a notice of resignation which can range from 1-3 months depending on the conditions of your contract.
What if the hospital says they can’t make other arrangements but I still withdraw?
They can let it go and you never hear from them again, or they can refer you to the GMC for professional misconduct. There are different types of actions depending on the severity of the situation. This can include issuing warnings that will be on your public GMC profile, suspending you from the register, or even revoking your license completely. It is very unlikely that you will received a serious sanction unless you have seriously endangered patient safety. You can read more about GMC sanctions here.
What if the hospital is taking too long to process paperwork and I want to start working sooner?
If the employer is not adhering to the timeline they gave you when you accepted the job offer, it may be a valid reason to decline. It’s best to discuss this with them to see how they can speed things up.
When is it acceptable to reject a previously accepted job offer?
If there are genuine reasons why you are not able to take up an offer, such as a significant change in circumstances, then most hospitals will be understanding and it is unlikely to result in an negative consequences.
Does this apply to training jobs or non-training jobs?
How NOT to get yourself in this position
There are several ways to avoid this sticky situation:
- Do not accept job offers without giving it due thought and consideration.
- Negotiate terms that you are happy with before accepting, or accept the conditional offer with your own conditional acceptance dependent on certain factors that you both agree on.
- If you have other potential job offers lined up, ask the first hospital if there is a deadline for you to accept the offer since you are waiting to hear back from other jobs.
- Once you’ve accepted a job offer, stop applying for further jobs or attending other interviews.