Hospital Dr News

GMC issues fitness to practise guidance that takes Covid-19 into account

The GMC has issued guidance for its fitness to practise investigators detailing how to take the context created by Covid-19 into account when considering complaints about doctors.

The guidance takes account of the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, including additional pressures on resources and ways of working outside of normal routines.

The advice is detailed in new COVID-19 specific guidance the GMC has issued to its staff who look into fitness to practise concerns raised about doctors.

It means that concerns about doctors will be considered in the context of the pandemic and, in certain circumstances and where there are no risks to patients or to public confidence, some issues might not question a doctor’s fitness to practice.

Examples could include concerns about clinical treatment where guidelines were unclear, or a doctor working outside their usual area of practice with limited or no support or guidance to do so safely.

There would also need to be no risk to future patients.

The guidance also advises GMC staff to reflect on specific issues arising due to the pandemic such as:

  • the disproportionate impact of disease and mortality rates on individuals from black and minority ethnic backgrounds
  • access to and availability of adequate PPE.

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC, said: “The unpredictable circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have forced doctors of all levels to change their practice and work more flexibly.

“Our new guidance considers the environment, created by the pandemic, in which doctors were working, along with any relevant information about resource, guidelines or protocols in place at the time.”

The GMC consulted with doctors, medical defence organisations and patient groups prior to publishing the new guidance.

Each complaint will be assessed on a case-by-case basis as to whether the incident poses a risk to patients or to public confidence.

The new guidance will be used by decision makers alongside updated guidance on provisional enquiries, the GMC’s Good medical practice, and other processes that form the bases for looking into fitness to practise concerns.

Dr Caroline Fryar, head of advisory services at the MDU, said: “Whilst the GMC’s recognition of the impact of the pandemic is reassuring, some of the complaints facing our members also have the potential to become clinical negligence claims which is why it is vital that the government acts to ensure all NHS healthcare professionals are exempt from Covid-19 related litigation, and the additional distress and anxiety it inevitably causes.”

Dr Rob Hendry, Medical Director at Medical Protection Society (MPS), added: “The guidance must however stand the test of time. It could be some time – potentially years – before such investigations are handled and we remain concerned that by this point memories of this difficult time may have faded.”

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