Hospital Dr News

GMC urged to abolish low level sanctions

The GMC’s low level sanctions against doctors should be abolished.

That’s the view of the medical defence body the MDU. Responding to the GMC consultation on the indicative sanctions guidance and the role of apologies and warnings, the MDU said warnings can have serious consequences for doctors, even though they are meant to be a low level sanction.

It called on the GMC to abolish the warnings it issues to doctors who have departed from guidance, saying that employers do not understand their intended impact.

Dr Catherine Wills, deputy head of advisory services at the MDU, said: “We are pleased the GMC is considering what to do with warnings as we think they should be abolished.

“Many employers, contracting bodies and other organisations providing medical services do not understand the intended impact of warnings and assume they are an indication of serious concerns, which they are not. Doctors careers can be adversely affected as a result and we don’t think this was what was originally intended.”

The consultation is a major review of the guidance the GMC gives to fitness to practise hearing panels run by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS). These panels decide what action should be taken to deal with doctors who do not meet the GMC’s professional standards.

The MDU also criticises another proposal to the sanctions guidance which says fitness to practise panels should automatically consider serious action for failures to comply with certain aspects of GMC guidance. These include failure to raise concerns, bullying, sexual harassment, or discriminating against patients.

Dr Wills explained: “When considering something as serious as whether a doctor should be given a sanction, each case must be judged on its merits. All aspects of a doctor’s practice are equally important to ensure high standards of patient care and safety. Introducing guidance that would automatically lead to more serious sanctions for certain breaches would create an artificial and misleading distinction.

“Of course doctors should raise concerns if they are worried about the safety of patients, colleagues or others, but surely it is equally important that they don’t breach patient confidentiality and that they make sure they get consent from patients. To suggest one area of practice may be more important than another has the potential to distract doctors from other equally important areas of practice. We don’t think it is helpful and there is nothing to suggest it will improve patient safety.”

The defence body also objected to the proposal that panels should be able to require doctors to apologise to patients if they have not already done so.

Dr Wills continued: “It is important that doctors apologise to patients when something has gone wrong and explain what has happened. In our experience, doctors already do apologise and we don’t expect there will be many cases reaching the GMC where this hasn’t happened. But obliging a doctor to apologise would be counterproductive. Unless an apology is freely given and the doctor means it, it has no purpose and will not help the doctor or the patient.”

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