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Fitness-to-practise process is ‘threatening the lives’ of doctors, think-tank warns

The purpose and the scope of the GMC’s fitness-to-practise process needs to be ‘re-appraised’ as it is ‘threatening the lives and livelihoods’ of doctors, according to a new think-tank report.

The authors of the report by Civitas, The General Medical Council: Fit to Practise?, said they question the regulator’s current process for fitness-to-practise issues and highlight that almost 100 doctors are reported to have died between 2004 and 2013 while undergoing investigation.

According to the report, 10,347 complaints were made to the GMC in 2012, while 3,943 were submitted in 2002.

The authors of the report said the GMC’s process for handling the increased volume of complaints made against doctors is not adequate.  

The report states: ‘The GMC is aware that its procedures are not appropriate to deal with the vast majority of instances in which doctors’ capabilities come into question, let alone the wider healthcare and management contexts that are usually significant contributors to patient dissatisfaction.

‘Medicine is an extraordinarily complex discipline, and its regulator appears often unable to interpret cases in the context of the real working lives of most NHS doctors and in the wider context of what gives rise to complaints and motivates complainants.

‘In this paper, we analyse how the GMC has arrived as its current state, and how practice by the GMC is threatening the lives as well as the livelihoods of doctors. We believe that, yet again, it is time to re-appraise the purpose and scope of the GMC.’

The report also notes that 96 doctors are reported to have died while undergoing fitness to practise investigations between 2004 and 2013, although it is unknown how many were suicides.  

Last year, the GMC launched an internal review of cases where doctors have committed suicide while under investigation, and the findings are expected to be published in September.

The Civitas report comes in the same week as a new study commissioned by the GMC showed the increased access to the internet and social media and negative media coverage could be behind a huge increase in the number of complaints made against doctors, while another study has suggested the GMC’s treatment of doctors undergoing fitness-to-practice proceedings as a result of ill health is anxiety-provoking.