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Government set to ‘break promise’ on GMC reform legislation this year

Government set to ‘break promise’ on GMC reform legislation this year

The BMA and MDU have complained to the health secretary, after learning that legal reform to fitness-to-practise processes for doctors will be delayed ‘until at least 2024’.

Long-awaited legislation to enable reform of GMC processes had finally been expected this year and the organisations said that ‘any further delay’ would ‘be seen by the profession as a broken promise’.

The planned reforms would enable swifter resolution of fitness-to-practise investigations, as well as quashing the GMC’s powers to appeal FTP decisions. It would also give GPs specialist status on the GMC register.

While long-awaited legislation to bring physician associates (PAs) and anaesthesia associates (AAs) into statutory regulation is set to happen next year, legislation for doctor regulation reform will not be laid at the same time.

The letter to Steve Barclay, also signed by the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said doctors are ‘deeply concerned’ by the pushback, as ‘currently, the GMC is operating under outdated legislation that disadvantages all parties; the profession, patients and the GMC itself’.

It said: ‘We urge the Government to keep its promise to patients and doctors, to reform the GMC without delay. We all stand ready to work with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) over the coming months to ensure the legislation can be published by the end of the year.’

MDU chief executive Dr Matthew Lee said: ‘The news that the government has shelved long awaited reforms of the GMC until 2024/25 is disappointing, frustrating and surprising.

‘Doctors across the UK have waited a long time to see their regulator reformed. This was promised for this year and it is a promise that must be honoured.

‘A fitness to practise process is one of the most stressful experiences a doctor can have in their career, and current legislation is crying out for change.

‘Doctors deserve a fitness-to-practise process that is modern, proportionate, timely and above all, fair. Currently, the GMC is operating under outdated legislation that disadvantages the profession, patients and the GMC itself.’

BMA council chair Professor Philip Banfield said: ‘For GPs, we have consistently maintained that they should be legally recognised as specialists on the GMC register, and it’s hugely frustrating and damaging to the NHS that they continue to have their expertise denied in this way. 

‘Most importantly, the Government must not use this delay to further renege on its promise to remove the GMC’s right to appeal fitness-to-practise tribunal decisions – something it committed to in 2018 – and we once again demand that this is honoured now. 

‘That the GMC still has this legal right, which it has repeatedly and unfairly deployed against doctors in the past, is a great source of anxiety for doctors, and only heightens the fear and mistrust they have in their regulator.’

The GMC had previously been told by the Government that the legislation would be laid in spring this year.

Chief executive Charlie Massey said: ‘Physician associates and anaesthesia associates are an important part of the health workforce and we welcome progress to bring them into regulation, which we will do within 12 months of legislation being laid by government.

‘But we are disappointed that the outdated legislation for doctors will not be replaced at the same time. The current framework stops us from being responsive and flexible in how we address patient safety concerns and register doctors to join the UK workforce. That isn’t good for patients, and puts unnecessary strain on doctors.

‘The Government has said that it expects to deliver reforms for doctors as a priority following its work on physician associates and anaesthesia associates. We now need a clearer commitment on the specific timing of that work and remain ready to progress better regulation for both doctors and MAPs as soon as the DHSC lays the necessary legislation.’

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘We are committed to regulatory reform that gives healthcare regulators the flexibility to better protect patients, support our health services and help the workforce meet future challenges.

‘We have made significant progress in drafting the legislation for the regulation of Physician Associates (PA) and Anaesthesia Associates (AA), and this Order provides the template for the reforms that will be delivered for all regulatory bodies and for all regulated professionals, including medical practitioners.

‘Reforming the GMC’s wider regulatory framework for doctors is our top priority once we have finalised the legislation to enable PA and AA regulation.’

New data from last month revealed that the GMC launched another 23 appeals against its tribunal’s rulings since the Government committed to disallowing GMC appeals in June 2018.

The GMC also last month said that findings against GP Dr Manjula Arora should not stand and that the dishonesty test was ‘incorrectly’ applied in her case, effectively overturning the ruling to suspend her for a month over ‘dishonesty’ about a laptop.

Several groups have also criticised the GMC’s proposed changes to its Good Medical Practice (GMP) guide, saying they could ‘open the floodgates’ to FTP investigations.

And a report by the regulator has shown that five doctors died by suicide while under GMC investigation between 2018 and 2020.

What GMC reform is expected to bring

On resolving FTP cases more quickly, the Government has said this will be made possible by:

  • allowing ‘more cases to be concluded earlier through accepted outcome decisions made by case examiners’, and;
  • ‘through a broader range of measures (including issuing a warning, applying conditions to a registrant’s practice, suspending their registration, or removing the registrant from the register’.

Its consultation plans from 2021 also rubber-stamped plans to ‘remove the General Medical Council’s right to appeal Fitness to Practise panel decision’ and ‘amend the power to require information in relation to fitness to practise cases to expressly exclude reflective practice material’.

And it proposed that GMC should be able to suspend, rather than just erase, doctors from the medical register, for reasons including a failure to pay fees or to meet revalidation requirements.

Under the plans, the GMC’s council structure will be replaced with a board, which should hold meetings in public. The regulator should also produce an annual report on its regulatory activities.

The GMC will have a duty to cooperate’ with other health regulators, as well as a duty to be ‘transparent’ about its decisions, including in fitness-to-practise cases.

The same consultation had sought views on the introduction of statutory regulation of physician associates, which would mean PAs would need to hold a GMC registration and would be subject to GMC fitness-to-practise proceedings.



Please note, only GPs are permitted to add comments to articles

Giles Elrlngton 22 July, 2022 12:26 pm

I am surprised that anyone outside the cabinet believes anything this government says.

Chris GP 22 July, 2022 3:01 pm

quelle surprise

Truth Finder 22 July, 2022 3:10 pm

I doubt this government will survive the next election. Trust is gone.

Kevlar Cardie 25 July, 2022 9:18 am

Chill your beans.
It’s going to be SO much better with Trunak.