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GMC forced to apologise after sending 'threatening' revalidation letters to GPs

Exclusive The GMC has been forced to apologise after it sent letters to hundreds of GPs threatening removal of their licence to practise - even though many had already submitted all their evidence for revalidation.

LMC leaders say the the tone of the letter - which warned GP in bold letters that their licence to practise was ‘at risk’ - alarmed and upset those who received it, particularly because many had already sent all the required documentation to their responsible officer.

Pulse has learnt that following complaints from LMC leaders about the ‘distressing’ letters, the GMC has apologised and agreed to tighten up its procedures and alter the wording of the letter.

A GMC spokesperson said the letters were generated automatically if a responsible officer had not sent a recommendation within ten days of a GP’s revalidation date. In some cases they were received by GPs whose paperwork was still being processed by their responsible officer.

The GMC was not immediately able to say how many GPs across the country had received the letters, although LMC leaders estimated hundreds had been affected.

One letter sent to GPs in the Thames Valley - obtained by Pulse - said: ‘We have not received a revalidation recommendation. Your license to practise is at risk.’

‘If you have a responsible officer or suitable person you should contact them immediately and ask them to submit their recommendation about you to us.’

GPs in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire have also complained to their LMC over the letters. Dr Peter Graves, chief executive of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire LMC, said: ‘The bluntness of the wording was distressing, especially when as far as they were concerned they’d done all the work. They were sent without any prior warning. [The GMC] doesn’t understand it’s very worrying for GPs.’

Dr Simon Poole, GPC representative for Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire said many of the GPs involved received the emails at weekends when they were unable to make contact with their responsible officer to clear up the problem.

He said: ‘The GMC does not appreciate the way in which these emails might be received. They’re not displaying compassion; they don’t realise the emails can be quite impactful on GPs and can cause a lot of concern. If they did they wouldn’t send them in this form.’

Dr Matthew Stead, former chair of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LMC, said: ‘It came out of the blue and felt threatening. Our responsible officer has this week put a piece in the LMC newsletter in Devon explaining this is standard practice. The tone of the GMC letter is unnecessary: I would call it standard bad practice.’

The GMC told Pulse the regulator had amended its communications reminding GPs about their revalidation recommendation.

In a statement, GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘We are committed to keeping doctors up to date about the progress of their revalidation. We’ve been in touch with doctors a number of times over the last 18 months about what they need to do to get ready, their revalidation date and their actual revalidation.

He added: ‘It is always helpful to hear from doctors and employers so, following feedback, we changed our final reminder letter to make it clearer.’

But Dr Paul Roblin, chief executive of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire LMCs, told Pulse a GP in his area had also received a ‘cold and unsympathetic’ letter from the GMC informing him his revalidation date had been deferred before he had been told of the decision by his responsible officer, who should make the GP aware of the recommendation before they submit it to the GMC.

In a response from Mr Dickson to Dr Roblin about the case of that GP, seen by Pulse, the GMC chief executive apologised for the tone of the letter and confirmed that responsible officers should discuss recommendations with doctors before sending an official recommendation to the GMC.

Mr Dickson wrote: ’ I can see how confusing and distressing both the sequence of events and the correspondence must have been for this doctor and I am sorry for the part we played in this.’

Readers' comments (11)

  • The GMC is out of control, repeatedly running amok with very little true accountability and beset by constant scandle. Whilst claiming to be our moral guardian, it pays scant regard to well established ethical principles and has become a grubby club for those more interested in grabbing power and suppressing dissent amongst doctors. It needs to be reigned in fast or replaced by something more suited to the complexities of 21st century medicine.

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  • In my opinion this article seems like a bit of a storm in a tea cup. GP's are notoriously poor at completing this sort of paperwork therefore if they had already submitted it then they would know they had nothing to worry about and if they hadn't then the potential implications of failure to submit it have to be relayed!

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  • David Bush

    On this occasion I have to take the side of the GMC (whom I agree can be heavy-handed). Read the text of the letter. It is quite simple and straightforward, and I would not consider it threatening at all. I would however be upset if the GMC did not inform me that my responsible officer had not made his recommendation in a timely manner.
    Ed: Let's not start a witch-hunt here.

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  • http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/54034

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  • It is telling that many of the comments on this story are made anonymously and reflects appropriately on the climate created by the GMC's modus operandi namely one of threats and intimidation. Yet, we are all patients and those who comment here, even anonymously, are exercising responsible citizenship on behalf of all patients. "For to sin by silence does make cowards of men". This event can reflect only what happens in an organisation which does not consider it owes a duty of care to those whom it regulates. Your report mentions amendment of communications but makes no mention of the training, re-training nor appraisal of the staff responsible nor why there is a culture towards fellow patients which considers regulation can be exercised only by bullying.

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  • Confidential enquiry into the deaths of doctors subject to fitness to practice investigations by the General Medical Council

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/54034

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  • 'I would not consider it threatening at all'
    What like threatening to end your career?!

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  • 924 signed petition for confidential enquiry into deaths of 100 doctors who died while investigated by the GMC.
    Please, sign the petition here and forward the link to your contacts (all within reason):

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/54034

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  • Why do doctors allow anonymous complaints against them? Not in Texas anymore. They changed the law.

    Why did doctors accept revalidation when it so open to abuse?

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  • Agree, revalidation is open to abuse. Any such processes can be used to discredit doctors, just the same as happens during training. The Eportfolio even contains a warning to doctors who unfairly assess colleagues ie it is recognised that this happens (fair assessment is enshrined in Good Medical Practice (GMC guidance)).

    This article is concerning too:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/10309961/The-rogue-GPs-who-fought-a-ban-only-to-be-struck-off-again.html

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