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82% of GMC investigations lead to no sanction, official figures reveal

Four out of five GMC fitness-to-practise investigations lead to no action being taken by the regulator, according to new figures published today, leading to further calls for the investigations process to be reformed.

The GMC’s annual State of Medical Education and Practice in the UK (SOMEP) report reveals that 2,696 fitness-to-practise investigations were closed in 2014 – but 2,217 (82%) led to no sanctions or warnings being imposed by the regulator.

This represents a slight increase in the number of cases dropped following investigations from the previous two years.

The GPC warned that complaints are being used as 'weapons' against GPs, and that the regulator should improve its 'sifting' of complaints.

Medical defence organisations said that the GMC's threshold for triggering an investigation may be 'too low', and they have a 'serious impact... on a doctor's mental and/or physical health'.

The GMC says it is currently in process of reforming the ‘initial triage process’ so it can more accurately judge which complaints merit an investigation – and therefore avoid any investigations that have little merit.

The SOMEP report showed there were 8,884 complaints launched against doctors in 2014 – a 2.3% decrease compared with the previous year, when 9,093 were made.

But it also found that of the 2,696 cases actually closed, 82% of investigations that led to no sanctions being placed. 

Dr Dean Marshall, a GPC negotiator, said: 'For a doctor faced with a GMC complaint it can be incredibly stressful – and has a significant impact on their functioning as a doctor... what we need to be better at is sifting out the ones which are clearly not going to go anywhere at the earliest possible stage – along with making sure people don't use referal to the GMC when it's not appropriate.

'I do some work for the GMC, and what I sometimes see is doctors getting referred because of issues, or referral to the GMC being used as a way of managing them rather than because there are clinical concerns about them. It's used as a weapon, rather than because there is an issue around patient safety.'

Dr Rob Hendry, medical director at the Medical Protection Society, said: 'We are well aware of the serious impact a GMC investigation can have on a doctor’s mental and/or physical health, and lengthy investigations can put doctors under additional pressures. 

'While it is appropriate that the GMC investigates and sanctions unacceptable conduct, the high proportion of investigations that are closed with no further action indicates that more emphasis needs to be on effective triaging of complaints, and the current threshold for opening an investigation may be too low.'

Dr Hendry added that the GMC should 'encourage and promote greater use of local resolution', and called on practices to offer an 'effective and robust' complaints process. 

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: ‘We have made good progress in speeding up our processes and we are proud of what we have achieved in cutting investigation times and increasing the support for doctors under investigation.

'But it is still not good enough – it is still too legalistic and confrontational, but we need legal changes to reform a system that is slow, outdated and not fit for purpose. The Government has talked long enough about reform – it now needs to get on with it.'

Following the last year's publication of the GMC’s review of doctors who died by suicide while under GMC investigation, the regulator has since outlined a number of initiatives to improve its fitness-to-practise process to alleviate the stress an investigation can have on a doctor.

This article was updated at 10:00am, 13 January 2016, to reflect that, out of the cases actually closed, 82% led to no sanction or warning

Readers' comments (29)

  • This organisation is controlled by the government and so should be funded by them and certainly not by doctors.
    They certainly act immorally towards doctors treating them badly and as this article shows, ruining their careers without a reason.
    The creation and implimentation of revalidation in its present form has effectively destroyed the whole system to a system of trust to a witch hunt.
    I advise anyone who asks about a future in medicine to look elsewhere.
    The juniors in their negociations for their new contract should also raise the issue of not paying for the GMC as it did not support them and threatened them in the worst way possible.

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  • "Half of GMC investigations go nowhere"......unless your are a BME doctor in which case you're much more likely to be disciplined, struck off, sanctioned etc etc.

    Its funny how this old boys club has never managed to ascertain the reasons for the vast discrepancy of stats when considering race and ethnicity, despite all the so called studies....

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  • Made to feel like a criminal despite having done nothing wrong. no support from anyone except the MDU. no recourse to sue or complaint to/about the complainant. Sitting duck doctors just waiting for something to go wrong. Don't be a doctor in the UK. No one cares about you while you are expected to care over your own health about others, and even look after these people who make vexatious complaints about you.

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  • Vinci Ho

    Let's define what constitutes an 'inappropriate' referral. We are condemned and penalised of making inappropriate referral to secondary care and wasting NHS resources . Open access referral to GMC is easily accepted as a debauchery of secret weapon . Then we have to pay higher and higher GMC fees.
    Duty of Candour comes in two folds: from top( those with more authority) to bottom (less power) as well as the bottom challenging the top. I think they so often carry two different meanings.........

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  • "Going nowhere" - yeah right. My going nowhere investigation ruined my life for 6 months, adversely impacted my family and ultimately brought forward my retirement plans. The GMC is a rogue organisation- you have two options either emigrate to escape its jurisdiction or practice extremely defensivley. Do not think it cannot happen to me.

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  • I went into medicine thinking the GMC was an organisation made up of my 'peers' (which it was when founded in the 19th century, however it has since morphed into a terror and intimidation organisation controlled by an ex-journalist (but he did once publish a nursing journal so thats alright then).
    So it is no surprise now that we now being controlled by non-doctors (apart from the token one or two) who dont understand what doctors do, that the GMC has sunk so low and it has so much blood on its 'charitable' hands as amazingly it is viewed as a charity.

    I have never been investigated and have left medicine and the register 'voluntarily as I did not want to be controlled by these vindictive idiots.
    It was the ill thought through and overly burocratic revalidation system which did it for me finally. This system makes a mockery of doctors rights as we have to comply with all the officious unneccesary xxxx they set up. The human rights issues like forcibly vaccinating all doctors before they are allowed to revalisldate should be illegal.
    Anyway these bullies can only get worse as no one seems interesed in controlling their powers which are only growing.

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  • what amazes me is the public still think the GMC defends doctors at all costs, when quite the opposite is the case.

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  • It is pointless complaining about the GMC as the organisation itself is "out of control" with no safety checks to counter extreme behaviour. They are the DOH "pet".
    Jeremy Hunt "uses" many ot these organisations as part of an orchestrated "bullying campaign" to control and intimidate doctors.

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  • GMC - Supporting vindictive patients to bully/destroy doctors careers and lives.

    New slogan for 21st century.

    No reason why the turkeys should continue to pay for Christmas - all doctors should stop paying for the privilege of being persecuted en mass and then this organisation will die the death it deserves.

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