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GPs face double jeopardy

A GP is at the centre of a land-mark High Court legal battle that could effectively end self-regulation for doctors even before the Shipman Inquiry's final report.

The case will determine whether a new super-regulator, the Council for the Regulation of Healthcare Professionals, can strike off doctors even if they have been cleared by the GMC.

GPs and legal experts said victory for the CRHP would mean doctors facing 'double jeopardy'.

The threat came as the GMC mounted a fightback against scathing criticisms from the Shipman Inquiry, exclusively revealed by Pulse, which cast doubt over its future.

The GMC said it was confident the Shipman Inquiry would not repeat all the criticisms in its final report this summer and hoped its revalidation plans would be backed.

But the High Court case involving Lancaster GP Dr Giuseppe Ruscillo could undermine the GMC before the inquiry reports.

In a hearing last week, the CRHP demanded the power to refer the case to the High Court so the GP could be struck off.

Dr Ruscillo was cleared by the GMC of serious professional misconduct in November. He had admitted having a sexual relationship with a patient but lack of evidence meant the GMC could not prove he knew the patient had a history of psychiatric illness.

The CRHP argued the GMC had been too lenient. A decision is expected in the next two months.

A GMC spokeswoman said the ruling was 'very important' to the council.

GPC joint-deputy chair Dr Simon Fradd said GPs would be under 'enormous multiple jeopardy' if the CRHP was allowed to overturn GMC verdicts. He added: 'It was meant to monitor regulatory bodies, not individual cases.'

Dr Gerard Panting, policy and communications director at the Medical Protection Society, which is advising Dr Ruscillo, said the case would 'pave the way' for others.

'He is just one of a number of GPs who may find themselves having to go through this procedure again.

'It is wrong to try somebody once, find them not guilty and then put them through it all again.'

Dr Emma Sedgwick, med-icolegal adviser at the Medical Defence Union, added: 'The GMC isn't the end of the road any more.'

Dr Ruscillo's lawyer Nick Rawson said: 'The question is how are GPs going to feel about having to go through a case more than once, which is going to make life difficult for everybody.'

 · Dame Janet rounds on GMC, page 3

 · GMC defence, page 10, 11

 · Question of trust, page 20

Council for the Regulation

of Healthcare Professionals

Set up in April 2003, after the Bristol inquiry

Overarches nine health regulators, including GMC

Has a 19-member council, one from each of the regulatory bodies, plus 10 public appointments

Can appeal regulators' decisions to the High Court which it believes have been 'too lenient'

Has looked at 189 cases, including 62 from the GMC

By Susan McNulty and Joe Lepper

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