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GP wins case against GMC for releasing fitness-to-practise report to patient

The High Court has ruled that the GMC was wrong to decide to disclose a full report regarding a GP’s fitness to practise to a patient who wanted to file a clinical negligence claim.

In the recent case, a GP - who is referred to as Dr DB - underwent a fitness-to-practise investigation after a patient complained that the GP’s incompetence had led to a year’s delay in diagnosis of bladder cancer.

The GMC commissioned an independent report into the GP but found there was no further action to be taken against the GP.

As usual, the GMC gave the patient a summary of the report, but the patient requested the full report as they were considering pursuing a clinical negligence claim.

The GP refused to give consent for the report to be shared, but the GMC decided to disclose it anyway. However, it didn't release the report pending the legal case brought about by the GP, which he won. 

The High Court ruled that the GMC had failed to start with a presumption against disclosure, failed to give adequate weight to the GP’s refusal to disclose the report and did not consider the motive of the patient’s request – to use the report in litigation against the GP rather than to check the accuracy of data held about them, which the Data Protection Act provides for.

Katherine Taylor, a barrister specialising in regulatory matters for healthcare professionals in Kingsley Napley LLP, said that: ‘The case shows that doctors have a very real privacy right over a report which focusses on professional competence’, and this case is ‘particularly important for those who find themselves subject to investigation by the GMC.’

A GMC spokesperson said: 'Although we had decided in principle to release the report having carried out a balancing exercise, we chose not to do so pending the court ruling.

'We are currently considering the judgment, its implications and any further steps which the GMC should take in relation to the case.'

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, senior medicolegal adviser at Medical Protection said: 'We are very pleased that Mr Justice Soole concluded that our member’s claim against the GMC, seeking to prevent it from disclosing its expert report to the complainant, must succeed.

'This has been an extremely helpful judgment for Medical Protection members and the wider profession as the disclosure of expert reports to complainants can cause doctors a great amount of additional stress usually at a time when doctors may think the case against them has been closed.

'In the majority of cases in which Medical Protection has been involved, several of the factors Mr Justice Soole ruled on regarding disclosure are issues that we often come across. Providing that the GMC do not intend to pursue an Appeal we believe that this case sets a strong precedent for similar cases in the future, and will go some way to improve the regulatory process for all doctors.'

It comes as the GMC is in the process of changing how it conducts investigations to lessen the impact on doctors, following recommendations made by an independent review of its fitness-to-practise process.

The GMC is trialling a new approach to clear up more complaints about clinical practice before they escalate to a formal investigation to help ‘reduce the impact on doctors’.

Earlier this year the regulator announced that doctors with mental health problems will in future be spared from full GMC investigations ‘wherever possible’ to try to make its fitness-to-practise process more ‘sensitive to the needs of vulnerable doctors’.

Please note: this article was changed at 10am on 25 October 2016 to reflect that the GMC had decided to release the report, but didn't actually do so pending the court case

Readers' comments (44)

  • its an indictment on the Doctor funded GMC that we paid for the privilege to harass this colleague

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  • Anybody surprised? I mean is anybody really surprised any more by the appalling way the GMC has serially treated doctors? Well done "Dr DB".

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  • NO COMMENTS!

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  • All we need now is that doctors be subject to the same rules of justice as anyone else. This has to be court of law standard. How many unsafe rulings in the past? How many lives ruined? A class action on unsafe rulings with the potential for corporate manslaughter charges?

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  • GMC have been getting away with their quasi-judicial system for too long despite the fact that we are all supposed to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. This is why doctors get rough justice time and time again. We need to move on and use the regular courts for serious matters and limit the remaining complaints to localised and speedy resolution.

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  • So what was the penalty to the GMC? Who was fired? Was compensation paid to Dr DB?

    Did the GMC really suffer from this at all apart from a slap on the wrist?

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  • GMC will pay out compensation from our pockets and next year you can expect an increase in subscriptions. That's life

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  • John Glasspool

    Yes, PULSE might like to follow this up with a question about what sanctions are to be taken against the GMC.

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  • Ah yes as usual the GMC " appeasing the patients by victimising doctors"

    Im so glad i'm out of their evil clutches having moved abroad and not paid their fees they suddenly, for some strange reason were no longer interested in me and removed me from their register...... BOO HOO!

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  • It took me some pursuasion to escape their clutches. They did not want to lose the money they got from me.
    I did not want them to get any more of my money. I won! If you can call getting off the register winning that is?

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