The GMC will ‘make initial contact with a doctor by phone’ when they start fitness-to-practise (FTP) proceedings, in a bid to ‘reduce anxiety’.
The regulator said this new process comes as part of ‘a series of improvements’ by the GMC to ‘take a more compassionate approach’ and ‘reduce the impact’ of investigations’.
It follows a pilot carried out earlier this year which found doctors ‘felt more supported’ when initial phone calls were made about FTP proceedings and the move has had positive feedback from medical defence organisations, the GMC said.
The phone call will see a GMC professional introducing themselves as the doctor’s contact, explaining what the immediate next steps will be and signposting them to relevant support services.
This will then be ‘immediately’ followed up via written correspondence.
During the call ‘a bespoke communication plan’ is created for the doctor ‘factoring in their communication preferences’ and ‘assessing whether they may be vulnerable’, the GMC said.
GMC chair Dame Carrie MacEwen said: ‘Reducing the impact of our investigations on doctors is of the utmost importance to us. The vast majority of GMC investigations conclude without action, but we know that the impact of receiving a complaint can be great for doctors.
‘The personal and compassionate approach of having a contact who can explain the investigation process over the phone and be a port of call for any queries has been favoured by doctors and support organisations alike.’
Medical Protection Society lead legal adviser Kashif Mahmood said: ‘This commitment from the GMC is welcome and could not come at a more pertinent time. A recent MPS survey of doctors who have been subject to a GMC investigation found that almost three in four – 71 percent – say their mental health was impacted by “the initial, unexpected notification of the investigation”.
‘This was reported more than any other single factor as having an impact on mental health, so it is welcome news that a more personalised approach will be taken when initially contacting doctors about an investigation.’
He added that doctors ‘understandably can feel very vulnerable when contacted out of the blue by their regulator’ but that it ‘is important to note that when a healthcare professional is initially contacted by the GMC, this will often be an interim measure in response to a concern, not a proven fact’.
‘For these reasons MPS recently called on the GMC to provide additional support to healthcare professionals upon initial contact.’
GMC is among regulators who have said they will take into account winter pressures when investigating complaints against doctors relating to their practise during the ‘difficult time’ that will be the coming months.