The Government has published its plans to update legislation to enable swifter resolution of fitness-to-practise investigations, as well as quashing the GMC’s powers to appeal FTP decisions.
A consultation document published yesterday evening also sets out plans to reform the GMC medical register to become a single register ‘where specialist status including being a GP is reflected through an annotation to the register’.
The GMC welcomed the consultation, which is open for 12 weeks, saying legal reform was ‘long overdue’.
The regulator understands the proposals, if approved, could pass as legislation by spring next year. Although the GMC will then need to hold its own consultation on changing processes.
On resolving FTP cases more quickly, the document says this will be made possible by:
- allowing ‘more cases to be concluded earlier through accepted outcome decisions made by case examiners’, and;
- ‘through a broader range of measures (including issuing a warning, applying conditions to a registrant’s practice, suspending their registration, or removing the registrant from the register’.
It also rubber-stamps plans to ‘remove the General Medical Council’s right to appeal Fitness to Practise panel decision’ and ‘amend the power to require information in relation to fitness to practise cases to expressly exclude reflective practice material’.
And it proposes that GMC should be able to suspend, rather than just erase, doctors from the medical register, for reasons including a failure to pay fees or to meet revalidation requirements.
Under the plans, the GMC’s council structure will be replaced with a board, which should hold meetings in public. The regulator should also produce an annual report on its regulatory activities.
The GMC will have a duty to cooperate’ with other health regulators, as well as a duty to be ‘transparent’ about its decisions, including in fitness-to-practise cases.
The consultation document also seeks views on the introduction of statutory regulation of physician associates, which would mean PAs would need to hold a GMC registration and would be subject to GMC fitness-to-practise proceedings.
GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: ‘It’s been nearly 40 years since the legislation which underpins how we operate was passed and clearly, reform is long overdue.
‘Medical practice, and expectations of care, have changed beyond recognition over the last few decades which means the need for regulation that can respond quickly and flexibly to changing environments has never been greater.
‘This reform agenda gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver real change – reforms that will allow us to work with less bureaucracy, provide a wide range of resolutions delivered faster and making sure our focus is even sharper on the needs of patients, clinicians, and employers.’
A number of the proposed changes come in the wake of the high-profile case involving Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, which led to a review into FTP proceedings.
Dr Richard Vautrey, chair of the BMA GP Committee, said: ‘The ambition to provide better and more responsive healthcare regulation is certainly positive, with the current system often slow, expensive, complicated and overly adversarial.
‘The BMA believes it is important that the GMC has the flexibility to adapt their approach to the needs of the profession, however, it is crucial that there is always appropriate parliamentary and public accountability in place, and engagement with the profession when any change is being considered.
‘We support plans to remove the GMC’s right to appeal medical tribunal cases and also facilitating through amendments to the GMC register the recognition of GPs as expert medical generalists and specialists in general practice. However, the full details of the consultation and the potential impact on doctors will need careful consideration.’
The Medical Defence Union (MDU) said the proposals ‘have the potential to be beneficial’ if they ‘can deliver a fairer and swifter’ FTP process for doctors.
MDU head of advisory services Dr Caroline Fryar said: ‘Doctors are to be the first healthcare professionals subject to a new three-tier fitness to practise regime. We will be working closely with the regulator over the coming months as it creates new rules in readiness for this legislation.
‘Amongst the changes, it is proposed that case examiners will now have considerably more power in the FTP process – including issuing what they deem to be appropriate sanctions.
‘The MDU will be seeking assurances about how this process can be established in the relatively short time frame that is proposed by the government. Fairness to registrants is a paramount concern.’