A new tribunal service for doctors facing serious concerns about their practice has been proposed by the GMC.
The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service would be separate from the regulator’s other work in investigating cases and presenting them for adjudication. And the GMC claims it will create management and reporting arrangements that support this divide.
Improvements to the adjudication process include the introduction of legally qualified chairs, more efficient hearing process and a single centralised hearing centre. The GMC claims these changes are designed to speed up the process.
The consultation on the proposals follows the coalition government’s decision not to proceed with the establishment of the separate Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator, which was poised to take over the judgement of doctors’ fitness to practise.
The new internal tribunal service would be led by an independent chair with significant judicial experience.
Niall Dickson, the GMC’s chief executive, said: “Panels already make their own decisions and they do not always accept what the GMC proposes. But we believe we can enhance this autonomy and make it absolutely clear that the appointment and management of panels and the monitoring of their decisions are all under independent control. It will also mean a clear separation between our investigation work and hearings.”
The GMC is consulting separately on major changes to the way fitness to practise cases are dealt with at the end of an investigation – these are designed to encourage doctors to accept proposed sanctions in order to protect the public without the need to refer the case for a hearing.
While the GMC claims it will reduce stress for all involved, critics suggest it’s a cost cutting measure.
Dickson added: “Only a very small proportion of doctors come before a hearing, but for those who do it can have significant consequences. It is vital we get this right and we are looking forward to hearing responses to our ideas.”
The previous administration was in the process of transferring adjudication to the Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator, with the GMC just retaining its role in investigating and prosecuting fitness to practise cases. The separation of these functions was first proposed by Dame Janet Smith in the Shipman Inquiry.
However, as part of the “bonfire of quangos”, the coalition government decided to bin the fledgling OHPA and let the GMC to continue to decide on the sanctions imposed on doctors through a separate disciplinary tribunal.
When initially proposed, 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.”
The GMC’s annual retention fee was frozen at £420 for 2011/12.
Read the full consultation document.
The consultation is open until Monday 13 June. Submit your views here.