Exclusive The GMC has appointed mental health expert Professor Louis Appleby to interrogate its fitness-to-practise procedures to ensure that it is more ‘compassionate and sensitive’ to the needs of vulnerable doctors.
Professor Appleby has been recruited by the GMC to carry out this work independently and will look at ‘every stage’ of the regulator’s FTP investigation process, following the publication of last year’s GMC review that found 28 doctors had died while under investigation.
The initial review found that doctors can become ‘marginalised’ while under investigation – and had subsequently received little support or compassion from the GMC.
Since then, the GMC has formulated an action plan to implement the recommendations in the review, and it said it has already changed the tone of its correspondence with doctors who are under investigation.
Another recommendation to establish a national support service for doctors is being established by NHS England.
However, Professor Appleby will look to establish further changes that can be adopted to support doctors who are going through the FTP process, and will examine how the GMC deals with doctors who may be vulnerable.
Professor Appleby’s has already lead the development of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England, which focuses on support for families and prevention of suicide among at-risk groups and is a CQC board member.
He also leads group of more than 30 researchers at the Centre for Mental Health and Safety at the University of Manchester, where he is a Professor of Psychiatry.
The chair of the GMC, Professor Terence Stephenson, said he is ‘determined’ to reduce the pressure of doctors going through FTP.
He said: ‘Over the course of my career I have twice been complained about to the GMC so I know first-hand how difficult the process can be. We are determined to do everything we can to reduce the pressure and anxiety for all doctors in our procedures, particularly where there are health concerns.’
He went on to add that Professor Appleby’s appointment will help the GMC to be more ‘sensitive and compassionate’ for vulnerable doctors.
‘It will always be a stressful experience but we want to offer whatever support we can to help them through the process. We have already made considerable progress in this area over the last 12 months but we know we cannot stop there.
‘Professor Appleby’s impartial advice will be extremely valuable in helping us pinpoint the parts of our procedures that could be more sensitive and compassionate to the needs of these doctors.’
Former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada, medical director of the Practitioner Health Programme – a support service for sick doctors – said: ’shows a shift in the last two or three years at the GMC’.
She added: ‘I think it is good news for everybody – because the pendulum of regulation that is anti-doctor is beginning to swing back to a more healthy place, where doctors can be mentally ill – yet trying their best in very difficult times.’
Professor Appleby will share his proposals at a special workshop with those who have an interest in this area in the Spring of next year.