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GMC blames GP ignorance for standard of proof row

The GMC has attributed the uproar over its plans to move to a civil standard of proof in fitness-to-practise cases to doctor's failure to understand its proposals.

The accusation came amid growing concern that the GMC's consultation over the move is simply a paper exercise.

With the deadline for responses to the consultation due to expire this week, opposition to the plans remained strong.

As many as 98% of respondents to a Doctors.net.uk poll carried out exclusively for Pulse remained steadfastly opposed to the decision to leave GPs' fitness to practise hanging on a ‘balance of probabilities'.

More than 1,000 GPs have backed Pulse's Justice for GPs campaign against the change and organisations including the BMA and two major medical defence bodies have written urging the GMC to think again.

Pulse this week submitted its original petition – first handed to the Department of Health in protest at the Government's regulation White Paper – to the GMC, supplemented by the signatures of yet more doctors.

Dr Sukhdev Girn, a GP in Derby, said: ‘If the PCT has anything to do with it, a switch to a balance of probabilities is not going to run in GPs' favour the majority of the time so most GPs would want the standard of proof to remain watertight.

‘Like most of my colleagues, I would hope that our peers who are fighting our corner would be listened to.'

But the GMC claimed it had received a ‘mixed response' from its consultation.

Paul Philip, the council's director of standards and fitness, blamed the ignorance of doctors for their opposition. ‘Some parts of the profession accept it as the right thing to do but, overall, most people don't understand it – it's a technical issue more than anything else,' he claimed.

‘People see this as a dilution of their rights and in a way, it conceptually is, because the criminal standard means that you've got to be sure beyond any reasonable doubt.'

Mr Philip admitted that ‘in a tiny amount of cases' a lower standard could see more doctors disciplined than under existing regulation.

A spokesperson for the Medical Protection Society claimed the GMC had already made up its mind on the move, regardless of the consultation, adding: ‘The horse has already bolted.'

But today, BMA chair, Hamish Meldrum, waded into the debate and pledged that the BMA 'will do all it can' to oppose the GMC's plans.

He said: 'If a doctor is at risk of losing his or her livelihood then nothing less than the current criminal standard of proof will do. Surely if someone's entire working life is at risk then there should be no reasonable doubt in reaching such a far-reaching decision?

'Any restriction on a doctor's ability to practise medicine, even quite limited conditions, can seriously damage their career and often ends their full-time employment and can compromise their position as a trainer. The GMC's consultation document does not acknowledge this or the fact that such findings will stay on a doctor's record for a number of years,' he added.

GMC What's due to happen next

Landmark changes in primary care regulation are set to come thick and fast over the next few months.

With the GMC consultation on a move to a civil standard of proof in fitness-to-practise cases ending this week, the council has said it aims to bring in the new standard by April.

Meanwhile the Health and Social Care Bill is set to begin its progress though Parliament in the next few weeks, including consultation on the role of the new super egulator as well as that of a network of responsible officers acting as the eyes and ears of the GMC in every PCT.

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