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GMC leader calls for wholesale reform of medical regulation

Reform needed to tackle ‘shameful’ disadvantage, says GMC Chief Executive

The ‘shameful’ disadvantage ethnic minority doctors still experience could be tackled by cutting red tape and giving greater autonomy to the GMC, its Chief Executive says.  

Charlie Massey, addressing the Westminster Health Forum, says that reforms to medical regulation – currently being consulted on by the Department of Health and Social Care – would give the GMC freedom to address discrimination and inequality within healthcare.

The consultation runs until 16th June. The GMC is supportive because it says regulators will be given greater freedom over which cases to take forward, freeing up resources to drive improvements in culture, training and education.

Massey said: “The pandemic has showcased the deep pride we all hold in our health services. But it has exposed a shameful side too – that too many doctors from ethnic minorities continue to experience disadvantage.

“This ranges from educational attainment and career progression, to their likelihood of being referred to their regulator.”

Making long-awaited reforms will allow the GMC to focus on supporting and nurturing doctors, “rather than simply stepping in when things go wrong”, he said.  

Massey explained the rigidity of our current legislation means the emphasis of the GMC’s activities is in the wrong place, comparing the current system to “using a hammer to crack a nut”.

He said: “We are required to fully assess every complaint we receive, even if it doesn’t raise serious fitness to practise concerns and won’t meet our legal thresholds. Reform will allow us to be much more focused in deciding which cases we investigate, and how we do it – ensuring fairer and faster outcomes.

“It will also give us better options for concluding cases in a way that takes account of the needs of all parties. Defaulting to an adversarial panel hearing can be deeply stressful. Not only for the doctor but also for the complainant, especially for those who don’t want to give evidence in public.

“What we need is a more a proportionate approach, where the course of action is determined by the case at hand, not legislative diktat.”

Wholesale reform

In 1983, the GMC dealt with less than one complaint a day; today it is roughly 10,000 a year.

Yet while medical practice has transformed over the years, the legislation that governs the GMC is still stuck in the 1980s, said Massey, and wholesale reform is needed.

He said: “Tinkering round the edges won’t cut it. What is required now is… a new model of regulation to meet 21st century needs.

“Galvanized by the pandemic, the chance for meaningful change is finally on the table.”

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