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Spotty boys should not be given preference in our medical schools

Dr Andrew Bargery, the victim of a frivolous and ill-informed patient complaint, explains why he thinks the GMC must rigorously overhaul its fitness to practise procedures

Can you imagine being investigated by the GMC merely for doing your job? Hounded for doing exactly what every GP in the UK is required to do by law?

Can you imagine having your work record trawled from top to bottom for signs of clinical, administrative, financial or personal failing, all at the whim of a disgruntled and ill-informed patient by whom you have done your duty?

Hard to believe? Well it happened to me, and I am now questioning the GMC's reformed fitness to practise directorate which I believe is unfit for purpose.

This is the record of events. One of my patients claimed for incapacity benefit. The local jobcentre sent me an IB113 form to complete on behalf of the patient.

I filled the form in accurately. The patient failed the personal capability assessment and complained to the GMC that I must have breached confidentiality. As a result, the GMC lay examiner decided to subject me to a full fitness to practise investigation.

Now it clearly states in bold on the front of form IB113: 'Your patient has given written consent on their claim form to allow us to approach you for this information.'

It goes on to make it perfectly clear that a GP is obliged under his or her terms of service to supply clinical information requested in this way and for the purpose of assessing a claimant's capacity to perform any work.

Did this cut any ice with the GMC? No it did not. Implementing the new 'streamlined procedure' (designed to be 'quicker, simpler and fairer') details were demanded from my employers to determine whether there were other 'areas of concern' about me, or evidence of 'a pattern of behaviour'?

Let me run that pass you again. You've done your job properly, and now the GMC wants to know if it's part of a 'pattern of behaviour'? In our brave new GMC, things have to be looked at 'in the round', ie a no-holds-barred investigation that feels like the medicolegal equivalent of having your house searched.

I think we all accept that it is sensible to gather any relevant information where a GP is suspected of clinical malpractice or of being another Shipman. The problem here was that the complaint was so patently flawed that the GP's record, spotless or otherwise, was completely irrelevant.

To my mind, this is a simply appalling state of affairs, utterly unwarranted by the facts of the complaint and absurd when put into the relevant context ­ that of the investigation of a GP who has done absolutely nothing wrong.

Such an action could not be better calculated to make innocent and hardworking GPs feel abused and demoralised. Remember, I was just doing my job. 'Utter madness' was how one LMC secretary described my predicament.

I don't think I'm the only victim of such high-handed action. Judging by the evidence of other GPs, the GMC seems to have become embroiled in a slew of dubious investigations on the flimsiest of pretexts. This is an abuse of authority and a waste of public money. The GMC ought to be thoroughly ashamed.

For me the story had a happy ending. My PCT was able to reply that there were no concerns of any kind about my practice ­ rather the opposite in fact.

So the GMC, after grinding through its investigative process, finally sent me one of its breeze-block letters grudgingly announcing that the case examiners had concluded there was no case to answer.

So does that mean we can all go home and forget things? Far from it in my view. Unless the GMC accepts that it made a mistake, and looks closely at its internal procedures to prevent a similar fiasco happening again, no GP will be able to complete an IB113 without running the risk of a full fitness to practise investigation.

It is now up to the Department of Work and Pensions, the BMA, the medical defence organisations and the GMC to sort out this shambles before the profession walks away in disgust from the current arrangements.

Was this case, to borrow the GMC's own language, 'an isolated instance' or part of a 'pattern of behaviour'?

There is growing evidence that it is the latter. In which case there will soon be a lot more angry doctors demanding corrective action.

We deserve better from those who purport to guide us. It's time the GMC saw the light.

Andrew Bargery is a GP in Barnstaple, North Devon

What the investigation demanded to know from me

·Any current concerns about my practice, and whether these are similar to the issues raised in the complaint?

·Details of any previous complaints irrespective of the final outcome.

·Any audit findings (or other quality assurance measures) that might indicate problems with my practice?

·Any data (eg in relation to prescribing patterns) that might indicate poor practice?

·Any other issue relating to fitness to practise?

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