Doctors could be able to avoid GMC fitness to practise hearings in future if they are prepared to accept pre-determined sanctions such as suspension and erasure, under new proposals.
A GMC consultation document recommends that doctors and patients should be allowed to avoid long and stressful public hearings. The GMC claims patient protection is the driving force behind the reform, which would still be a transparent process because even without a hearing, concerns and any sanctions would still be published on the regulator’s website.
For those doctors who do not accept the sanction proposed, or where there is a significant dispute about the facts, cases would still be referred for a hearing.
The consultation was welcomed by the medical defence bodies, but they warned a culture shift was needed at the GMC for them to work.
MPS’s director of policy and communications, Dr Stephanie Bown, said the organisation had long held concerns about the fairness, efficiency and proportionality of the GMC’s fitness to practise procedures, and the consultation offered an opportunity to shape better procedures with the right balance for doctors, patients and the public.
She said: “We are extremely receptive of the idea of greater discussion with the GMC and the opportunity for fair and sensible decision making at an earlier stage – it is pragmatic and makes sense, as hearings are stressful, and can be drawn out and costly.
“This is, however, a fundamental change to how the GMC currently operates and the success of this scheme will depend on a robust strategy for communicating and engaging public confidence, and a change in culture for case examiners, moving away from the current adversarial approach.”
The consultation document also proposes a more speedy process for dealing with doctors convicted of serious crimes, such as murder and rape, with the GMC arguing that those who have committed such crimes are not fit to be doctors.
Niall Dickson, GMC chief executive, said: “We are here to protect patients and that means making sure that only doctors who are fit to practise are allowed to do so. However, it is not our role to punish doctors or even to provide redress to patients – there are other ways to achieve that.
“Our view is that attending a hearing can be a stressful experience for everyone involved and there is no need to do this if the doctor is willing to accept sanctions that protect patients.”
The recommendations are in part a response to the GMC’s burgeoning case load. In 2000, the regulator received 4141 complaints about doctors compared with 7,022 projected for 2010.
MPS’s Brown said the GMC and doctors will have to cooperate for the proposals to work. “We believe the proposals will bring a level of consistency in approach, which we welcome. But we maintain that nothing must usurp a doctor’s entitlement to a hearing, where agreement cannot be reached,” she said.
Doctors can already seek to voluntarily erase their name from the medical register ahead of a fitness to practise hearing, although this has proved controversial and allegations of inconsistency have dogged the process.
Recently the government has confirmed the scrapping of a fledgling regulator that was being set up to preside over the adjudication of doctors’ fitness to practise, allowing the GMC to retain control of the process.
Dr Catherine Wills, deputy head of advisory services at the MDU, said: “We welcome the opportunity to enter into discussions with the GMC with a view to identifying ways of disposing of cases without panel hearings and we will be responding to the consultation on our members’ behalf.”
The GMC is seeking views – which can be emailed to email@example.com – until 11 April.
Read the full document.