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New PCT powers to snoop on GPs

By Christian Duffin

GP leaders and medical defence bodies will this week enter battle with the Government over its plans to give PCT medical directors ‘terrifying' new powers to monitor GPs' performance.

A Department of Health working group will meet for the first time to hammer out the details of controversial plans to toughen up medical regulation via the health and social care bill – and ministers want to give trust medical directors unprecedented say over what goes on a GP's performance record.

In their role as responsible officers – effectively the GMC's eyes and ears in every practice – they will have the right to insist that even minor incidents remain on a GP's record indefinitely as ‘recorded concerns', in the manner of police cautions.

Members of the working group told Pulse of their determination to resist the plan. The Medical Protection Society warned GPs face being railroaded into accepting a recorded concern for fear of otherwise being referred to the GMC.

Dr Stephanie Bown, director of education and communications at the MPS, said: ‘These responsible officers will have terrifying power, but many are ill-equipped for the role. Medical directors have very varied ability. Some may be just out to make a name for themselves.'

A department spokesperson said recorded concerns would be logged only after agreement with GPs, but confirmed responsible officers would be allowed to make a referral to the GMC if a GP refused to agree to the marks on their record.

The spokesperson said: ‘We envisage that recorded concerns can be removed from the file – not after a set period of time but after the underlying problem has been addressed.'

The GMC will meet regularly to decide if further action is needed over a particular GP's recorded concerns. The scheme will be piloted in England, then rolled out across the UK.

GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman said he had major concerns over the role. ‘We do not know yet who makes the record, how long it will stand and how doctors will defend themselves. In principle, it is government by innuendo.'

He added: ‘If a concern was recorded against a doctor 10 years ago and then another one is made, does that count as a pattern of concern?'

Dr Robbie Coull, a GP in Strachur, Argyll, who was reinstated to the GMC online register in 2005 after a trivial complaint was rejected, said: ‘This is a way of creating a pliable GP workforce that doesn't complain. Some GPs will feel forced to accept allegations even if they are totally innocent – because they know they might otherwise be referred to the GMC.'

Alastair Henderson, deputy director of NHS Employers, said: ‘I can understand why there are anxieties about recorded concerns. But the plans may pick up problems that would normally slip through the net.'

What are responsible officers? What are responsible officers?

Responsible officers, likely to be PCT medical directors, will be charged with policing GPs, liaising with GMC affiliates at SHA level.
Together they will decide if recorded concerns are to be made against a GP, which will remain on file until they are satisfied the problem has been resolved.
GPs who dispute the ruling of the responsible officer could be forced to appear before the GMC, which plans to bring in a civil standard of justice for all cases.
The Department of Health says it has not yet been decided whether the public will have access to GP files.


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