The Medical Defence Union has called on the GMC ‘to abolish’ the warnings it gives to doctors, adding that the regulator’s ongoing proposals to introduce harsher sanctions could lead to ‘artificial’ conclusions about a doctor.
The MDU claims that warnings can have serious consequences for doctors, even though they are meant to be considered a low level sanction.
In its response to the GMC’s consultation on sanctions guidance, the MDU also criticised proposals that fitness to practise panels should automatically consider serious action for failures to comply with certain aspects of GMC guidance – for cases including failure to raise concerns about patient care, bullying, sexual harassment, or discriminating against patients.
The consultation, launched in August, is aimed at updating GMC’s ‘indicative cautions guidelines’, used by panels to decide the outcome of cases at fitness to practise hearings. It is also examining the role of apologies and warnings in its processes and changes to the guidance on suspension.
The consultation document, ‘Reviewing how we deal with concerns about doctors’, proposes a number of changes that will allow the GMC to ‘take appropriate action to protect the public interest without being influenced by the personal consequences for the doctor’. The regulator can also, however, refer the case onto a fitness to practise panel.
Currently, the GMC may issue a warning after an investigation if a doctor’s ‘behaviour or performance shows a significant departure from the principles’ set out in the guidance for doctors – Good medical practice.
But Dr Catherine Wills, deputy head of advisory services at the MDU, said: ‘Many employers, contracting bodies and other organisations providing medical services do not understand the intended impact of warnings and assume they are an indication of serious concerns, which they are not.
‘Doctors careers can be adversely affected as a result and we don’t think this was what was originally intended.’
She added: ‘Introducing guidance that would automatically lead to more serious sanctions for certain breaches would create an artificial and misleading distinction. Of course doctors should raise concerns if they are worried about the safety of patients, colleagues or others, but surely it is equally important that they don’t breach patient confidentiality and that they make sure they get consent from patients.’
It comes as earlier in the week, the Practitioner Health Programme, led by former RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada, claimed that the GMC fitness to practise proposals could lead to doctors being ‘scapegoated.’
The GMC’s fitness to practise consultation ended today (14 November).