Exclusive The GMC is trialling a new approach to the handling of complaints about doctors’ clinical practice, in a move aimed at cutting out unnecessary investigations.
The regulator said the pilot starting next month will look at clearing up more complaints about clinical practice before they escalate to a formal investigation to help ‘reduce the impact on doctors’.
It comes as Pulse revealed that three–quarters of complaints about GP prescribing over the past four years were thrown out.
But GP leaders were sceptical about how far the GMC’s action would alleviate concerns for GPs.
In a statement, the GMC told Pulse: ‘In July we are starting a pilot where we will make preliminary enquiries of single clinical incidents to make sure we only open a full investigation if the case raises wider fitness to practise concerns.
‘This will reduce the impact on doctors and ensure our investigations are focussed on those cases where we may need to act to protect future patients.’
But former GPC negotiator Dr Dean Marshall said the move ’will only reassure me if it actually makes a difference to their treatment of doctors who have complaints made against them’.
He added: ‘I am surprised to say the least that they are only now doing a pilot to look at something that is clearly a major area of concern for the doctors involved.’
The pilot comes after the GMC announced earlier this year that it was introducing some changes to how it conducts investigations of fitness-to-practise, after a series of damning reports revealed doctors were coming under unbearable pressure while under investigation.
And a recent Pulse investigation of GMC data, revealed through Freedom of Information requests, showed out of more than 1,000 complaints made about GPs’ prescribing over the past four years, nearly 800 – or three-quarters – were concluded without any action whatsoever.
A third of all complaints were concluded before being taken forward for full investigation, but more than half of those that were investigated still ended up being thrown out completely, and of the rest two out of every five were concluded without any formal action, just advice.
The GPC warned GPs were being put through the ‘incredible stress’ of investigations when ultimately they had no case to answer.
GMC processes under scrutiny
The GMC is in the process of changing how it conducts investigations to lessen the impact on doctors, following recommendations made by an independent review of its fitness-to-practise process.
Earlier this year the regulator announced that doctors with mental health problems will in future be spared from full GMC investigations ‘wherever possible’ to try to make its fitness-to-practise process more ‘sensitive to the needs of vulnerable doctors’.
Those changes came after Pulse published a series of articles about the pressure GMC procedures put on doctors, including a report that 28 doctors had died by suicide while under investigation and another 13 died while the regulator contemplated action.