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Doctors ‘to be scapegoated’ under GMC fitness to practise plans, says Gerada

GPs could be ‘scapegoated’ for fitness to practice (FTP) issues they have little control over, under GMC proposals for more harsher sanctions for doctors who fail to raise concerns about patient care, a group set up to support doctors with mental health issues has said.

A proposal to remove or suspend doctors from the medical register for failing to raise concerns is ‘deeply worrying’ and would see doctors punished for failings that ‘largely derive from political management decisions’, the Practitioner Health Programme, led by former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada, has said.

In its reponse to the ongoing consultation on GMC sanctions guidance, the PHP also accuses the regulator of ‘responding to political pressure’ in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal and questions whether its focus on ‘maintaining public confidence’ is about basing its decisions on ‘what the tabloid newspapers might think’.

The consultation, launched in August, is aimed at updating GMC’s ‘indicative cautions guidelines’, used by panels to decide the outcome of cases at fitness to practise hearings. It is also examining the role of apologies and warnings in its processes and changes to the guidance on suspension.

The consultation document, ‘Reviewing how we deal with concerns about doctors’, proposes a number of changes that will allow the GMC to ‘take appropriate action to protect the public interest without being influenced by the personal consequences for the doctor’.

However the PHP says the proposals ‘are intended to enable the rights of the doctor to be disregarded if sanctions are imposed solely to maintain public confidence’, adding that the case studies it uses to support the proposals are too ‘extreme’ and detract from the real issues.

In response to the regulator’s proposal ‘to guide panels to consider more serious action where cases involve a failure to raise concerns’, the PHP said: ‘This proposal is deeply worrying as it would enable sanctions against almost all doctors for omissions in matters that are not under their direct control, which may often be identified only with hindsight, and which are more properly the direct concern of other health professionals, management and various inspectorates.’

‘It increases potential for doctors to be scapegoated for failings that largely derive from political management decisions.’

Leader of PHP and former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada said: ‘Focusing on the detail that’s contained in this consultation, for example, whether or not doctors should apologise – detracts from the much larger issues. The GMC needs to looks at all its systems and process because so much of it needs to be reformed if we are going support doctors and patients.’

‘The case studies in the consultation that are given are so extreme and in reality doctors which are referred to the GMC are referred for much more mundane issues and associated with more complex issues.’

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: ‘Doctors are among the most trusted professionals and they deserve to be treated fairly. In the vast majority of cases one-off clinical errors do not merit any action by the GMC. But if we are to maintain that trust, in the small number of serious cases where doctors fail to listen to concerns and fail to take action to protect patients, they should be held to account.’  

‘We normally only investigate the most serious concerns. Many of the complaints we receive are closed because they do not call into question a doctor’s fitness to practise or we refer them to their employer to be dealt with locally. We have had an excellent response to our consultation so far and we want patients, doctors and other professionals to give us their views – this consultation is a chance to make sure the action we take is fair to doctors but always protects the public.’

The consultation runs until 14 November.