The GMC is set to gain powers to overrule decisions made by its independent tribunal on fitness-to-practise hearings if it feels they are too lenient, in a move the GPC says leaves GPs open to ‘double jeopardy’.
In the Government’s response to a report by the Health Select Committee on the GMC, it said it would introduce draft legislation for public consultation on giving the GMC the right to appeal decisions from the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS).
The report said: ‘We are working with the GMC towards draft legislation for consultation, which would make a number of reforms to the GMC’s fitness-to-practise proceedings, and this proposal would be included within those measures.’
‘This process has begun with a view to introduction of draft legislation as soon as possible, which will be proportionate, effective and scrutinised by Parliament.’
The Department of Health said it was also seeking technical advice from the Ministry of Justice on whether a right to a concurrent appeal was appropriate.
The MPTS was set up by the GMC in 2011 as part of the GMC – but operationally separate from its investigations and adjudication department, and accountable to Parliament. From June 2012 it has managed all fitness-to-practise and interim orders hearings.
The GMC has argued that having the right to appeal would enhance its independence from the decisions of the MPTS. But Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, said it could lead to decisions on hearings being made as a result of political pressure.
He said: ‘Many doctors are concerned that they can be the victims of a witchhunt. They would want to see a fair process. There’s a worry pressure from politicians would lead to a “something must be done” attitude and the GMC therefore would come under pressure and inflict more severe sentences.’
Dr Nigel Watson, chair of the GPC’s commissioning and service development subcommittee and a GP in the New Forest, Hampshire, echoed his concerns.
He said: ‘That’s double jeopardy. You go through a process and the tribunal hears complex evidence and you’re judged on that decision. It seems a bit odd that someone can come in and try and make your sentence harsher. For a lot of people going through this process it’s traumatic, so I think it should be a complete process.’
‘Does it work the other way around? Some decisions seem lenient but some seem excessively harsh. If you’re going to have an appeals system it should be for excessively harsh and excessively lenient judgements for balance.’
‘If the GMC ends up making the decision over the appeal then that’s not on. If you’re going to have justice it should be a decision based on the evidence and not on anything else.’