The GMC has been criticised for failing to act after receiving evidence of widespread payments to consultants in private practice in exchange for referrals to certain hospital groups.
An investigation by a major health insurance company uncovered covert schemes often worth ‘tens of thousands’ of pounds, with some payments exceeding six figures.
The insurance company called on the GMC to “take a clear position on this” but the regulator took no action.
Land Registry records showed that many independent practices were housed in expensive London properties owned by private hospital groups.
One document seen by The BMJ showed 73 properties, many in West End locations, including Harley Street and Wimpole Street, owned by the giant American hospital corporation HCA alone.
In 2014, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) issued an order that prohibits inducement schemes. But there’s evidence that some hospitals are continuing to “buy” referrals.
One senior surgeon said he had been approached by a hospital group hoping to attract his referrals away from a rival as recently as nine months ago.
A spokesperson for The London Clinic, London’s largest independent hospital and an opponent of consultant incentive schemes, said that although the rules had been “tightened considerably” by the CMA order “we are still seeing consultants being approached by competitors”.
The GMC said it “would encourage anyone who has concerns about the conduct of a doctor or evidence of wrongdoing to share this information with us in order for us to investigate these concerns and, if appropriate, open an investigation.”
But the insurance investigator said he found it “staggering and totally unacceptable that the GMC, as the official regulator of the medical profession, can receive a report from a public body showing that one of the key duties of a doctor is being widely flouted and do nothing about it.”
It was, he added, “a sad day for the medical profession when a competition regulator has had to issue an order stopping such schemes because our own regulator, the GMC, has failed to do so.”
The GMC says that it didn’t receive a formal complaint against individual doctors and so could not investigate further.