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Independents' Day

Doctors who harm patients to face tougher sanctions, GMC proposes

Doctors who cause harm to patients through clinical error or professional misconduct will face sanctions even if they can demonstrate that their practice has improved, under proposed changes announced by the GMC today.

The independent regulator has opened a public consultation to update its ‘indicative cautions guidelines’ for case examiners in Fitness To Practice (FTP) proceedings. This guidance is used by examiners to decide how to deal with doctors when serious complaints against them are upheld as well as being used to decide whether or not to refer a doctor under investigation to a FTP panel in the first place.

The consultation document, ‘Reviewing how we deal with concerns about doctors’, proposes a number of changes that will allow the GMC to ‘take appropriate action to protect the public interest without being influenced by the personal consequences for the doctor’.

It comes a month after Pulse reported on research published in the BMJ that showed how doctors involved in FTP proceedings due to ill health felt daunted, confused and anxious as a result of the GMC’s ‘accusatory tone’ in FT hearings and correspondence.

Under the proposed changes, the GMC’s Medical Practioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) panels will be able to take ‘more serious action’ against doctors who have failed to ‘work collaboratively’ or raise concerns early on.

Doctors who are shown to have known (or who it is deemed should have known) that they were were causing harm to patients will face restrictions on their practice, suspension, or could have their registration removed - even if they have subsequently retrained or otherwise improved their practice.

If the changes go ahead, MPTS panels will also be able to consider ‘specific aggravating and mitigating factors’ when deciding on what action to take in cases that involve addiction or misuse of alcohol or drugs.

The GMC say that the proposals are designed ‘to protect patients and uphold public confidence in the medical profession’. The results of their consultation will be used to update the guidelines used to decide the outcome of FTP hearings in a way that the body’s chief executive Niall Dickson described as ‘similar to that used in courts in England and Wales’.

Mr Dickson said: ‘In the vast majority of cases, one-off clinical errors do not merit any action by the GMC. But in the small number of serious cases where doctors fail to listen to concerns and take action sooner to protect patients, they should be held to account for their actions.’

He added: ‘The guidance on which we are consulting today is vital for case examiners and the independent panels who decide on the sanctions doctors should face, both to protect patients and uphold the reputation of the profession.’

Other proposed changes include giving MPTS panels the power to force doctors to apologise to patients they have harmed. Those who take part in the consultation will be asked to consider whether a failure to do so may be considered as evidence that the doctor lacks insight into their shortcomings.

Doctors who wish to take part can do so on the GMC website. A report on the outcomes of the consultation will be published in 2015.


Readers' comments (42)

  • 96 doctors have died whilst under investigation by the GMC. Who is going to hold this organization to account?

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  • I was investigated by the GMC for 18 months following a malicious allegation by a patient. We ended up involving the police to end the harrassment by this patient. I was completely cleared. No one ever apologised to me.

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  • Another stick. How about some carrots?

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  • Why on earth do doctors have to pay for the GMC? It stopped being self-regulation a long time ago. The public should pay.

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  • Una Coales

    Keep the comments coming! Sky News has invited me to debate 'against' this sanction of a forced apology vs CG arguing 'for' at 1:30 pm today!

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  • The GMC continually hide behind the mantra that they are protecting patients but they are in fact contributing to a nasty culture of fear that is becoming quite pervasive within the UK medical profession of late. The irony is that the GMC may well be doing more harm than good and undermining public trust in the NHS.

    Throughout history doctors are often targeted as scapegoats and for other peoples failings. There are good examples of this to be found in recent armed conflicts. The reality is that most medical professionals are really decent people trying to do their best with the resources available. Doctors are on the whole honest and moral people who are often quite vulnerable as a consequence and sometimes in need of protection from the very people they are trying to assist. Medicine is increasingly complex but nobody I know gets up in the morning to intentionally make mistakes. Serious errors usually arise from system faults, something that the airline industry has done well to recognise and nurture people to improve safety. Sadly the GMC is pushing in the opposite direction.

    We already have a strong judicial system to protect the public and uphold the rule of law. There are good mechanisms to deal with a small number of people who are letting our side down which raises the question of what the GMC is for.

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  • Una I would point out the sharp rise in complaints that the GMC is receiving despite no evidence of an increased frequency of poor care - ie more nonsense complaints. In such instances, the patient should be asked to apologise to the doctor.

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  • "The irony is that the GMC may well be doing more harm than good and undermining public trust in the NHS."

    "Another stick. How about some carrots?"

    Exactly! GMC is only interested in it's own power and importance and not at all interested in Supporting Doctors. It is just another brick in the wall of regulation, threat and demoralisation that GPs have to get over in order to do their jobs.

    Who went to medical school to Help People and who went to medical school to be scrutinised, bullied, undermined and fill in forms and tick boxes?

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  • Abolish GMC ,all cases to go to courts which have publically funded medical tribunals and if accusations are proved unfounded then doctors can sue the patients and claim damages so it's fair for every one

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  • Dear Una

    please read this

    It will help you and is a good read. Best of luck to you!

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