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GP referrals to GMC jump by 15%

Exclusive: The number of cases sent to the GMC rose sharply last year, with the GPC warning NHS managers were adopting a ‘lower threshold’ for referral because they lacked the resources to deal with problems locally.

There was a 15% increase in the number of GPs referred to the GMC over the course of 2011 and a cumulative 62% increase over the last two years.

The number of serious cases, which require an immediate investigation by the GMC,
has also risen, although more slowly – with ‘stream one’ cases involving GPs jumping by 7% last year. The GMC said it was unsure why the rise had occurred, but that it was planning an independent audit.

It said it had been allocated £500,000 in extra funding to conduct investigations because of the increase in serious cases.

Overall, cases involving GPs jumped from 3,577 in 2010 to 4,127 in 2011, and serious cases from 785 to 839.

Enquiries to the GMC from public organisations rose by 28% in the first two months of this year, although the GMC said it was too early to say if this was a significant rise.

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair, said he was concerned managers had become so overstretched by the NHS reforms they were ‘effectively defaulting concerns to the GMC’: ‘PCTs have a lower threshold for referrals. They have lost experienced people who might have previously settled disputes.

‘It’s not good enough just to refer GPs on to the GMC. There’s also a rising tendency among patients to complain.’

Dr Peter Swinyard, chair of the Family Doctor Association, said the increase could be the ‘last desperate shot’ of PCTs to get rid of people they didn’t like: ‘I don’t believe a vast number of GPs have suddenly become negligent. PCTs play around with dashboards and other toys,
and are less forgiving of mistakes.’

Dr Helena McKeown, a GP in Salisbury, Wiltshire, and a BMA Council member, called it a
‘worrying trend’: ‘GPs are trying not to refer as much. That could be something to do with it.’

A GMC spokesperson said: ‘We do not know why there has been such an increase. It may reflect a greater willingness to complain or improved knowledge of regulators – or a combination of the two.’