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Establishing new tribunal services

I would like to clarify a few points following your article ‘Fast-track tribunals under fire'.

The GMC has been running two major but distinct consultations – one concerned with our investigations and the second about the establishment of a new Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, which in future would take over the running of the hearings system.

On the investigation stage, we have just finished consulting on proposals that would allow doctors to accept sanctions without their cases going before a fitness to practise panel hearing. The idea is to deliver a faster system while maintaining fairness for doctors and patients.

If a doctor did not accept the measures we believe are necessary to protect patients, the case would proceed to a hearing as it does now.

The separate consultation is on proposals for the establishment of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, which will take over the running of fitness to practise cases. This follows the Government's decision not to proceed with the setting up of the Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator. Our proposals will make even clearer the separation between the GMC's role in investigating and bringing forward cases, and the management of hearings. As under the current arrangements, both medical and non-medical panellists would hear the evidence and make an independent decision.

We are not planning to hold hearings in private and that has never been part of these proposals. Hearings held by the tribunal service would be in public, unless, as now, they relate to a doctor's health.

There is also no question of plea bargaining. Of course we will listen to what the doctor says in mitigation, but the sanction we propose will be determined by what we believe is necessary for the future safety of patients. In all cases, including those where the doctor accepts our proposed measures without a hearing, we will still publish details of the outcome. If the doctor does not accept our proposed sanction, the case will go to a hearing as now and if they dispute the decision made by the hearing, they will continue to have the right of appeal to the High Court.

These two proposed reforms reflect our commitment to making the system for dealing with concerns about doctors as fair and straightforward as possible, reducing the stress and anxiety felt by all involved in the cases, including doctors and patients.

Our over-riding concern, as in everything we do, is the protection of the public.

From Niall Dickson,
Chief executive, General Medical Council

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