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GMC has improved its ability to assess complaints against doctors at an earlier stage

The GMC issued its report, State of Medical Education and Practice, this week. Released annually, the report sets out an overview of regulatory and workforce issues that feature prominently in healthcare.

It examines the GMC data relating to the changing medical register and explores the patterns of complaints about different groups of doctors.

Looking at the report, the MDU is pleased the GMC has improved its ability to assess complaints at an early stage. This resulted in far fewer formal FTP (fitness to practise) investigations of doctors by the GMC as the number dropped by more than 35% in five years.

In 2011, 2,265 cases reached a full investigation whereas in 2016 the number was 1,436.

When doctors are told the GMC is investigating a complaint about them, it is invariably distressing. It can lead to previously confident doctors questioning their judgment and make them worry about treating patients in future.

Often the impact spreads from their clinical practice to every area of their professional and personal life. It is important that GMC complaints are dealt with swiftly and proportionately and the MDU welcomes the success of the GMC’s provisional enquiry procedure which takes a timely and proportionate approach to cases that, even if proven would not give rise to serious concerns about patient safety

In 2016, the GMC added single clinical incidents to its criteria for provisional enquiries which aims to identify cases that can be closed without a full, formal investigation, subject to examination of key pieces of information that are sufficient to satisfy the GMC that the doctor in question poses no risk to patient safety.

This was good news for doctors and for patients – it is of no benefit to anyone for an investigation to be a long and drawn out process. We welcomed these improvements which reduced the numbers of doctors who have to face a full FTP investigation by the GMC.

For many years it has been clear to the MDU that a one-off clinical incident is unlikely to be an indicator of concerns about patient safety. They are usually an unfortunate and unique set of circumstances can present opportunities for learning and improving practice but are generally not reliable indicators of serious concerns.

It is clear to see these GMC changes in assessment of complaints have been a success – cases are being dealt with more quickly and in a more proportionate manner, something that is good for both doctors and patients.

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