The General Medical Council (GMC) has launched another 23 appeals against its tribunal’s rulings, new data has revealed.
Figures obtained by the Medical Protection Society (MPS) under the Freedom of Information Act show the regulator has appealed a further 23 Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) cases since the Government committed to disallowing GMC appeals in June 2018.
It said at the time that it can take approximately 18 months to bring necessary legislative changes through the parliamentary process.
MPS had called for the reform to be included in the Health and Social Care Bill, which was recently passed into law, but the Government said it would use alternative legislation instead to implement the this change along with other regulatory reforms proposed in a consultation set up in March 2021.
This secondary legislation was meant to come into force in spring 2022, but the response to the March 2021 consultation is ‘disappointingly’ yet to be published, ‘signalling what could be a significant delay’, said the MPS.
The decision to remove the GMC’s right to appeal was based on Professor Sir Norman Williams’s review into gross negligence manslaughter in medicine, which was sparked by the Hadiza Bawa-Garba case.
The Williams review also recommended that – pending the new legislation – the GMC should review its processes for deciding when to appeal MPTS decisions, including considering delegating or referring its right of appeal to the Professional Standards Authority.
MPS medical director Dr Rob Hendry said the GMC’s appeal ability has ‘created distrust between the medical profession and the regulator’ and ‘contributed to a culture of fear’.
He said: ‘Fitness-to-practise proceedings are stressful and lengthy enough for doctors, without the added worry that the GMC can seek to override the decision made by the MPTS if it does not agree.’
Dr Hendry said while the GMC continues to use these powers, ‘doctors will continue to have this hanging over their heads until the relevant legislative changes are made to the Medical Act.
‘While we support the principle behind many of the wider reforms proposed in the consultation launched in March 2021, our concern was always that grouping these reforms together would inevitably lead to further delays in the removal of the GMC’s right of appeal.’
He added: ‘We would like an urgent update on when the government now anticipates the legislation will come into force.
‘Last year 13 leading healthcare organisations joined MPS in calling on the Government to finally see through its commitment on this. The strength of feeling on this issue is clear to see and the continued delay is both frustrating and concerning.’
Doctors Association UK co-chair Dr Matt Kneale told Pulse ‘no other regulatory body under the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) has the power to overturn tribunal decisions, but the GMC continues to have this exceptional ability despite the Williams review being published four years ago.
‘The case of Hadiza Bawa-Garba proved that the GMC would not be trusted to exercise this power with due care and diligence, yet it remains in place. With the recent concerns surrounding the higher rates of MPTS cases amongst black and ethnic minorities, prompting our own request for the PSA to intervene, it is crucial that the Williams review findings are implemented as soon as possible.’
Meanwhile, Sir Robert Francis QC said the GMC has a ‘statutory duty’ to continue to appeal fitness-to-practise decisions made by its own tribunal until the Government officially strips it of its right to do so.
In April last year, the MPS renewed their call for the GMC to swiftly be stripped of its powers to appeal fitness-to-practise tribunal decisions, after a previous FOI revealed this has happened in a further 14 cases since the Bawa-Garba fallout.
A GMC spokesperson told Pulse: ‘We are not opposed to the decision to remove our right of appeal, and it is now the Government’s decision when and how to implement these changes.
‘Until our right of appeal is removed we have a legal obligation to continue exercising it, in order to protect the public.’