The government has confirmed it will scrap the fledgling regulator that was set to preside over the adjudication of doctors’ fitness to practise, allowing the GMC to retain control of the process.
The coalition will repeal legislation creating the Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator and, in separate legislation, will take steps to enhance the independence of adjudication at the GMC.
A Department of Health response to a consultation on the original proposals suggests that the highest volume of respondents (45%) agreed with the coalition’s preferred option of modernising existing GMC processes.
The OHPA was set up at the beginning of the year after the Shipman Inquiry criticised the GMC for being ‘prosecutor, judge and jury’ and was set to take over the adjudication role on fitness to practise cases. The GMC would have been left with an investigatory role. However, financial pressures prompted a re-think by the coalition government and OHPA was tossed on the ‘bonfire of the quangos’.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, welcomed the decision. He said: “We are committed to taking forward a programme of major reform to create an efficient and modern adjudication function which operates independently from our other work.
“We plan to separate entirely our investigation activity and the presentation of cases from adjudication by creating a new tribunal service. This will have its own chair, appointed through an independent process, who will report directly to Parliament on an annual basis.
“We intend to embrace the challenge we have been set, and believe we can make considerable progress, ahead of any legislative changes.”
Defence bodies have previously criticised the prospect of the GMC retaining the powers of adjudication. In October, Dr Mike Devlin, head of advisory services at the MDU, said: “While we support the motivation for the suggestion that the GMC could set up a separate disciplinary tribunal, we do not see that such a body, which would remain under the auspices of the GMC, will ever be sufficiently independent. We are also concerned that attempts to try to make it independent will be more costly than the current system, with doctors having to bear these additional costs.”
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