There has been a doubling in the number of doctors referred to the GMC by medical directors and other public bodies, new figures reveal.
In 2010, medical directors made 1,395 referrals representing one in five of all complaints to the GMC.
The GMC research sought the views of 100 medical directors asking them to explain why more doctors are being referred to the GMC than ever before.
It suggests the NHS has better systems for monitoring doctors’ performance and that there is greater awareness of and commitment to high professional standards, the regulator claims.
Over 85% of the medical directors surveyed had made a referral to the GMC in the last five years. The medical directors also reported that there was an increased commitment among doctors themselves to reporting concerns, as well as patients feeling more empowered to complain.
Niall Dickson, GMC chief executive, said: “More complaints about doctors does not necessarily mean standards are slipping; it could be a sign that the systems to identify problems are improving. Our research certainly suggests that employers are giving priority to detecting and dealing with concerns and that has to be welcome.
“In addition, rather than keeping quiet about problems, doctors are more likely to speak up when they see anything that could pose a risk to patient safety. And that is exactly as it should be. There is no cause for complacency and we know there is more to do in this area, but the system is becoming more open and we have come a long way from the idea of medicine as an ‘old boys’ club’.”
Of medical directors who said the number of referrals they made in 2010 was higher than previous years, the main reason cited for the increase was colleagues being more likely to raise a fitness to practise issue.
95% of those who made referrals contacted the National Clinical Assessment Service for advice.
The GMC is launching a new liaison service to support medical directors in dealing with concerns they may have about the doctors for whom they are responsible.
Dickson said: “A referral to the GMC can be the start of an anxious time for everyone involved, and we recognise that. The piloting we have already done shows that employer liaison advisers can bring real benefits to medical directors and we will soon have someone in each area of the UK to support them.”
Dean Royles, director of representative body NHS Employers, commented: “It is encouraging that the GMC recognises that employers are giving priority to reporting concerns and that this is having a positive impact on patient safety. Protecting patients is of paramount importance to employers, who have worked hard to improve procedures and policies for reporting concerns, making it easier for staff to raise concerns with confidence.
“Employers will act when concerns are raised and will involve the regulators where appropriate, therefore we welcome the GMC liaison service which will help them navigate the appropriate referral route.”