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At the heart of general practice since 1960

CMOs admit civil standard doubts

By Gareth Iacobucci

One of the UK's top medical officers has admitted his initial outrage at plans to move to a civil standard of justice for GPs in fitness-to-practise cases.

But Dr Harry Burns, Scotland's chief medical officer, told the RCGP conference in Edinburgh he had now concluded GPs ought to accept the change because it already applied to other professional bodies.

Dr Burns went on to attack GPs who are threatening to withhold funding from the GMC in protest at the move, adding: ‘Saying "I'm tearing up my standing order to the GMC" is selling a pass.'

‘It's very important if we're going to take medicine forward that we are still vigorous players in self-regulation.'

But Dr Burns admitted that when he first saw the proposals for the shift to a civil standard, he was taken aback.

‘When the report came out and I saw the question of moving from beyond all reasonable doubt, my response was that it's outrageous.

‘I was taken aback to discover that other professional bodies work that way. The argument is, why should doctors be any different?

‘I don't think there's a strong argument for why medicine is different from other health care professionals.'

He added: ‘We've all had doubts about the lack of hard evidence, but we've got to go along with it.

‘There is no strong argument why medicine should be treated differently to other health professions like dentistry.'

The argument was backed by Dr Mike Harmer, deputy chief medical officer for Wales, who said he would ‘like to think' the sliding standard used within the civil standard of justice would be applied at the highest level in cases when a GP's livelihood was at stake.

‘If a GP's career is on the line, you'd like to think everyone would take it to the absolute limit. It's a question of how far the public wants to go.

‘But you cannot have one rule for other parts of the medical profession. I'm in favour of the benefit of the doubt providing that patient safety comes first.'

Dr Michael McBride, chief medical officer for Northern Ireland, said: ‘Patient safety is paramount but we also need to safeguard reputations. It needs close monitoring.

‘There's too much variation. Some trusts regulate well, others don't. Early intervention is crucial.'

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