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GMC cases rocket after civil standard switch

By Steve Nowottny

Exclusive: The number of doctors referred by GMC case examiners to fitness-to-practise hearings increased dramatically last year – prompting warnings that the switch to the civil standard of proof may be putting GPs at greater risk of sanction.

New fitness-to-practise statistics published by the GMC reveal 359 doctors were referred to hearings by case examiners in 2008, compared with 196 in 2007 – an 83% rise.

The total number of cases dealt with by the GMC rose only slightly, but the proportion referred to hearings jumped by almost two-thirds – from 17% to 28%.

The GMC insisted: ‘It is clear to us that the nature of the concerns being referred to the GMC from the NHS and the police is more serious than in recent years. This accounts for the higher rate of referral to fitness-to-practise hearings. There is no evidence the move to the civil standard of proof has had any bearing.'

But medical defence experts told Pulse they believed the dramatic rise in referrals to a hearing could be the first indication of an impact from last year's switch to the civil standard of proof.

Dr Peter Schütte, head of advisory services at the Medical Defence Union, said: ‘It's probably too early to draw any hard conclusions, but it may well be that the change in standard of proof is having an impact.

‘Intuitively and logically this seems a possible explanation – that case examiners are saying now we've got a lower standard of proof, this case is more likely to be upheld and therefore we'll push it through.'

Dr Stephanie Bown, director of policy and communications at the Medical Protection Society, said there was ‘undoubtedly' a link between the rise in referrals and the switch to the civil standard of proof, but that it would take longer for the full effects of the change to become apparent.

‘It's early days, so next year will be very interesting,' she said.

Dr Krishna Korlipara, a former GMC council member and a GP in Bolton, said the ‘significant' rise demanded further investigation.

‘I can't see this as a statistical blip,' he said. ‘Case examiners cannot always determine at the stage of screening, when faced with multiple charges against a doctor, which of the charges might be decided under the civil standard of proof.

‘As a result, they may be playing safe by referring more cases on to the panels.'

The GMC may now face a backlog of cases as a result of the increased number of hearings. The GMC council heard last month it had not been possible to schedule hearings for 17 cases within its own target timescales.

The GMC insisted it had now cleared the backlog.

The GMC has seen a sharp rise in referrals from case examiners to fitness-to-practise panels The GMC has seen a sharp rise in referrals from case examiners to fitness-to-practise panels

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