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30% surge in doctors reported to GMC

By Gareth Iacobucci

The number of doctors being reported to the GMC over their fitness-to-practise has risen by 30% in the past year.

The surge suggests the screw is being tightened on GPs' performance ahead of revalidation, currently expected to commence in 2011.

It follows Pulse's revelation in May that the number of doctors referred by GMC case examiners to fitness-to-practise hearings increased dramatically last year – leading to concerns that the switch to the civil standard of proof may be putting GPs at greater risk of sanction.

The GMC also admitted it had failed to meet its target to conclude hearings within nine months, and to complete investigations within six months. It said it was continuing to monitor trends, but expected to be ‘back on track in the final quarter of 2009'.

But the medical defence union said it was concerned that many more GPs were coming under scrutiny from the GMC, with cases becoming both more complex and more common.

MDU medicolegal adviser Dr Michael Devlin said: ‘Twenty years or so ago the GMC's one Professional Conduct Committee sat for about 20 weeks a year. In 2008 the numerous Fitness to practice Panels sat for 2,138 days - about 427 weeks in total.

‘There were about five thousand complaints to the GMC last year and as well as an increase in the numbers there is an increase in complexity, and the can go on for days and weeks.'

Dr Krishna Korlipara, a GP in Bolton and a former member of the GMC, commented: ‘There has been an exponential rise in the time GPs have to spend preparing and attending GMC hearings. There are obviously differences between then and now. The structure has changed, but most importantly the threshold of proof has been lowered to that of the balance of probabilities.

‘Cases which would never have been referred to the Professional Conduct Committee are now going to the Fitness to Practice panels. Many of these GPs will be found not guilty, but will still have to have a number of weeks waiting for their cases to resolve.'

Fitness to Practice panels had become increasingly autonomous from the GMC, and should no longer be paid for by doctors' GMC subscriptions, he added.

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