The General Medical Council is to issue guidance on how to deal with complaints against doctors who may have assisted in suicides.

Case examiners and the regulator’s investigation committee will be advised about what action to take over allegations that doctors have helped people to die.

There will be a public consultation on the draft guidance once it is published in January.

It follows a patient asking the GMC what advice or support, if any, doctors could give to patients who were considering ending their lives.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: “The issue of assisted suicide is complex and sensitive.

“We already have clear guidance for doctors that they must always act within the law and assisting or encouraging suicide remains a criminal offence.

“This guidance will not in any way change the legal position for doctors.

“We recognise however that there are a range of actions which could be considered as assisting in a suicide, such as providing information to a patient about suicide or providing practical assistance for someone to travel to a clinic such as Dignitas.

“Some of these actions may not lead to criminal charges but may still lead to complaints to us about a doctor’s fitness to practise.”

The guidance will include factors that might be relevant in determining the seriousness of each case.

It will not cover euthanasia -in which a doctor’s actions lead to a patient’s death - as this is already covered by existing guidance.

In the last decade, the GMC has examined three cases where a doctor was said to have helped somebody to die.

One resulted from a conviction for assisting suicide in Canada and none from any conviction in the UK.