The GMC can become a ‘force for good’ in tackling the ‘shameful’ disadvantage ethnic minority GPs face in their careers if proposed changes to legislation go ahead, the organisation’s chief executive will tell health leaders today.
In March, the Government published plans to update legislation to enable swifter resolution of fitness-to-practise investigations, as well as quashing the GMC’s powers to appeal fitness-to-practise decisions, with the GMC at the time welcoming the ‘long overdue’ consultation.
Charlie Massey will address the Westminster Health Forum later today to explain that the proposed reforms would give the GMC ‘freedom’ to address discrimination and inequality within healthcare.
Mr Massey will say that the Covid pandemic has led to a show of ‘deep pride’ in health services, but has also ‘exposed a shameful side’ – ‘that too many doctors from ethnic minorities continue to experience disadvantage’ which ‘ranges from educational attainment and career progression, to their likelihood of being referred to their regulator’.
He will add that the GMC needs ‘more autonomy and less red tape’ to drive improvements in culture, training and education, ‘meaning we can ensure support is there for doctors at the start, rather than simply stepping in when things go wrong.’
Mr Massey will argue that the Medical Act 1983, which governs the GMC, forces the organisation to focus on the ‘wrong place’, stating that it requires it to fully assess every complaint it receives, ‘even if it doesn’t raise serious fitness to practise concerns and won’t meet our legal thresholds’.
He is expected to add: ‘Reform will allow us to be much more focused in deciding which cases we investigate, and how we do it – ensuring fairer and faster outcomes. What we need is a more proportionate approach, where the course of action is determined by the case at hand, not legislative diktat.’
It would also give the GMC ‘better options’ for concluding cases he will say, adding that defaulting to an adversarial panel hearing can be deeply stressful for the doctor involved and the complainant, especially for those who don’t want to give evidence in public, Mr Massey will say.
The planned reforms would address this by giving doctors the ‘swifter’ option to accept that their practice is impaired and that a sanction is necessary, without having to go through a full tribunal process, allowing doctors to return to work more quickly, according to Mr Massey.
He will add: ‘Nearly 40 years [after the Medical Act was introduced], medical practice has been transformed. But while the needs of patients and the profession have shifted dramatically, regulation has remained more or less static.
‘This is an issue that goes beyond mere rules and processes. It’s about the needs of today’s health service, the doctors who work in it and the patients who rely on it.
Mr Massey will also argue that the process of getting on the GMC register for doctors is currently full of ‘bureaucracy’, adding the reforms will make it more straightforward and streamlined, by giving the GMC ‘greater discretion so doctors are assessed on their abilities, not the number of pages they can pull together’.
In April, a coalition of medical organisations called for the GMC to swiftly be stripped of its powers to appeal fitness-to-practise tribunal decisions, as an FOI investigation revealed this has happened in a further 14 cases since the Bawa-Garba fallout.
In the same month, the GMC said it would consider proposals to establish ‘measures and targets’ to mitigate bias against ethnic minority doctors in fitness-to-practise (FTP) referrals as well as address the ‘attainment gap’ faced by BAME medical students and trainees.