The GMC needs to do more to reassure doctors that its new tribunal service will be independent, defence bodies have warned.
The MDU says the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, being set up by the GMC to adjudicate on fitness-to-practise cases, should not be overly influenced by the regulator.
Dr Catherine Wills deputy head of the MDU’s advisory department, said: “We don’t think the GMC’s proposals go far enough and we think there needs to be greater safeguards to ensure tribunals that decide on a doctor’s fitness to practise are completely independent of the GMC.
“For example, there is no mention of whether the MPTS will need to take account of GMC indicative sanctions guidance when deciding what action to take against a doctor whose fitness to practise is found impaired. In the same way that it would be inappropriate for the Crown Prosecution Service to impose sentencing guidelines on judges in criminal proceedings, it must be clear that the ultimate decision on sanctions should be for the tribunals themselves.”
The MDU was responding to the GMC’s consultation The future of adjudication and the establishment of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service.
Wills also criticises the GMC’s right to appeal against MPTS decisions which it considers unduly lenient, alongside the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence which already has this power.
She said: “We believe this would create a cruel element of double jeopardy in which doctors who have been exonerated by a tribunal then have to wait to find out if either the GMC or CHRE wanted to appeal the decision. Not only that but doctors concerned could effectively find themselves paying the GMC’s legal costs through their annual registration fee, as well as two sets of defence costs.”
Wills added that it may be in the public interest for one body to be able to appeal fitness to practise decisions but not for two separate bodies to have the same powers.
The MPS raised concerns over the GMC wanting to move to a single hearing centre in Manchester.
Dr Stephanie Brown, director of policy and communications, said: “Cost should be an important factor, particularly in the current financial climate, however it should not be the overriding factor that dictates the venue of all hearings. In criminal and civil court settings, it is the balance of convenience which is the primary factor; this is the right approach to take.”
She said there was ample scope for efficiency savings in the overall management of FTP
Meanwhile, the GMC has claimed that doctors and patients have voiced support for many of the fitness to practise reform proposals. The proposals include plans that would see doctors able to accept a sanction without going to a hearing, delivering a quicker way to protect patients.
Cases where there is a significant dispute about the evidence, or where the doctor did not accept the sanction the GMC believed necessary to protect patients, would continue to go to a hearing.