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MPs to back civil standard

By Steve Nowottny

Controversial plans to shake up medical regulation look set to make rapid progress through Parliament, with opposition parties broadly supportive of key proposals.

Both Conservative and Liberal Democrat politicians told Pulse this week they will largely back the Government's Health and Social Care Bill, due to go before MPs this autumn.

But opponents of the changes said they would step up their lobbying campaign and insisted there was still ‘everything to play for.'

The Bill, outlined by Gordon Brown in July, will introduce wide-ranging reforms, creating the new regulator Ofcare and appointing ‘responsible officers' in PCTs to identify poor performance among GPs.

It will also enshrine in law the shift from the criminal to civil standard of proof for fitness-to-practise cases, which the GMC is currently consulting on, and will come into force next April.

Stephen O'Brien MP, Conservative shadow health minister, said: ‘The prime concern of this Bill must be patient safety through a proportionate regulatory structure for medics and other health professionals.'

The Conservatives have already backed the civil standard of proof and greater lay representation on the GMC, a spokesperson added.

The Liberal Democrats are also likely to back the civil standard and a lay majority, although health spokesperson Sandra Gidley MP told Pulse the party had yet to finalise its official line.

‘Most of the other professions actually work with a civil standard of proof and I'm not aware it causes any major problems,' she said. ‘I think the medical profession probably has to make the case on that one.'

Dr Krishna Korlipara, a GP from Bolton, Lancashire, who sits on the GMC, urged GPs concerned about the changes to respond to the GMC's consultation and write to their MP ahead of the Bill going before Parliament.

‘There is still everything to play for,' he said. ‘Both the Conservatives and Labour appear to be backing the legislation based on the perception that because the GMC is comfortable with it, there is not an issue.

‘I think politicians by their very nature are open to persuasion. Let them know that the profession is deeply unhappy.'

A spokesperson for the Medical Protection Society said it was already lobbying MPs and peers, and both it and the BMA will have a presence at this year's party conferences.

Professional regulation – described earlier this year by new BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum as its ‘next big battle' – will be a key focus for the association this year.

But while acknowledging the extent of parliamentary opposition, a spokesperson for the BMA remained upbeat. ‘If you're going to fight a battle you obviously fight it on the basis that it's winnable,' she said.

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