The GMC is set to trial a system of ‘agreeing’ on sanctions with doctors subject to investigation in a bid to reduce the number of fitness-to-practice hearings.
A pilot scheme is being rolled out this week, alongside another trial that will see the GMC involving patients and concerned relatives in fitness-to-practice investigations.
The first pilot, which will involve around 80 doctors, will see the GMC meeting with the doctor after concluding its investigation. If the parties can agree on an outcome and any potential sanctions, the case will not have to be referred to a public hearing. If the doctor and the regulator are in dispute over the outcome or the doctor will not accept sanctions, cases will go to a public hearing as normal.
The pilot, which will run for up to nine months, will not include the most serious cases.
At the same time the GMC will also trial a system to involve patients and their relatives at the beginning and at the end of an investigation, to increase the investigator’s understanding of the complaint and the patients’ understanding of the fitness-to-practice investigation process. The trial will run in Greater London and the north west of England.
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘We believe these proposed changes could deliver a quicker and less stressful system for dealing with complaints which continues to put patient safety first. We want to reduce the number of hearings and the associated stress on patients and doctors alike.’
He added: ‘But there will be no cosy deals – the sanctions we propose must protect patients and it is important too that we continue to be open about what we are doing and publish any action we take against a doctor. And for those doctors who do not accept our proposed sanction or do not accept our view of the facts, their cases will still be referred for a public hearing.’
Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, was cautiously supportive of the new system.
He said: ‘The advantage could be if it speeds up the process because a concern of many doctors is the way these GMC proceedings hang over them for many months. It could also potentially be more cost effective. But the GMC will have to ensure that it does not become a way of short-changing doctors or that they feel coerced to accept sanctions.
‘I think in most cases it seems sensible to involve patients. It is important to exclude vexatious complaints and the GMC needs to have the process and the ability to do that as it can otherwise be quite damaging for doctors.’
The trials come after the majority of respondents in a public consultation run by the GMC last year backed the changes, as a way in which the GMC could help protect patients faster and ensure complainants fully understand the investigation process.