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GMC forced to apologise after sending ‘threatening’ revalidation letters to GPs

Exclusive The GMC has been forced to apologise after it sent letters to hundreds of GPs threatening removal of their licence to practise – even though many had already submitted all their evidence for revalidation.

LMC leaders say the the tone of the letter – which warned GP in bold letters that their licence to practise was ‘at risk’ – alarmed and upset those who received it, particularly because many had already sent all the required documentation to their responsible officer.

Pulse has learnt that following complaints from LMC leaders about the ‘distressing’ letters, the GMC has apologised and agreed to tighten up its procedures and alter the wording of the letter.

A GMC spokesperson said the letters were generated automatically if a responsible officer had not sent a recommendation within ten days of a GP’s revalidation date. In some cases they were received by GPs whose paperwork was still being processed by their responsible officer.

The GMC was not immediately able to say how many GPs across the country had received the letters, although LMC leaders estimated hundreds had been affected.

One letter sent to GPs in the Thames Valley – obtained by Pulse – said: ‘We have not received a revalidation recommendation. Your license to practise is at risk.’

‘If you have a responsible officer or suitable person you should contact them immediately and ask them to submit their recommendation about you to us.’

GPs in Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire have also complained to their LMC over the letters. Dr Peter Graves, chief executive of Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire LMC, said: ‘The bluntness of the wording was distressing, especially when as far as they were concerned they’d done all the work. They were sent without any prior warning. [The GMC] doesn’t understand it’s very worrying for GPs.’

Dr Simon Poole, GPC representative for Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire said many of the GPs involved received the emails at weekends when they were unable to make contact with their responsible officer to clear up the problem.

He said: ‘The GMC does not appreciate the way in which these emails might be received. They’re not displaying compassion; they don’t realise the emails can be quite impactful on GPs and can cause a lot of concern. If they did they wouldn’t send them in this form.’

Dr Matthew Stead, former chair of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LMC, said: ‘It came out of the blue and felt threatening. Our responsible officer has this week put a piece in the LMC newsletter in Devon explaining this is standard practice. The tone of the GMC letter is unnecessary: I would call it standard bad practice.’

The GMC told Pulse the regulator had amended its communications reminding GPs about their revalidation recommendation.

In a statement, GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘We are committed to keeping doctors up to date about the progress of their revalidation. We’ve been in touch with doctors a number of times over the last 18 months about what they need to do to get ready, their revalidation date and their actual revalidation.

He added: ‘It is always helpful to hear from doctors and employers so, following feedback, we changed our final reminder letter to make it clearer.’

But Dr Paul Roblin, chief executive of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire LMCs, told Pulse a GP in his area had also received a ‘cold and unsympathetic’ letter from the GMC informing him his revalidation date had been deferred before he had been told of the decision by his responsible officer, who should make the GP aware of the recommendation before they submit it to the GMC.

In a response from Mr Dickson to Dr Roblin about the case of that GP, seen by Pulse, the GMC chief executive apologised for the tone of the letter and confirmed that responsible officers should discuss recommendations with doctors before sending an official recommendation to the GMC.

Mr Dickson wrote: ’ I can see how confusing and distressing both the sequence of events and the correspondence must have been for this doctor and I am sorry for the part we played in this.’