A group of 19 health organisations has called on the Government to strip the GMC of its right to appeal MPTS decisions before the end of this parliament.
In a letter to the health secretary Steve Barclay, they urge the Government to deliver on its 2018 commitment to remove the GMC’s power to appeal FTP decisions in order ‘to address the mistrust’ of the regulator.
The group, coordinated by the Medical Protection Protection Society (MPS), included the BMA, the RCGP, the Doctors’ Association UK, and the British International Doctors Association (BIDA) among others.
Since this commitment in 2018, the GMC has challenged 24 MPTS decisions, according to information obtained via a freedom of information request by the MPS.
A year ago, the same freedom of information request by the MPS revealed the GMC had at that time launched 23 appeals since June 2018.
Legislation to remove this power from the GMC is still not in place, despite the Government making its intention clear in June five years ago.
In July last year, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) made a commitment to progress the necessary legislation in 2023, confirming that the order removing the GMC’s right of appeal would be laid in the second half of 2023.
DHSC said this would be done alongside legislation bringing physician associates (PAs) and anaesthesia associates (AAs) into statutory regulation.
However, while DHSC has consulted on the PA and AA legislation and stated its intention to use this as a ‘template’ for regulation of doctors, the timeline is not yet certain.
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘The government remains committed to the implementation of the Williams Review recommendations through its programme of regulatory reform that will be rolled out to all regulated healthcare professionals.
‘We aim to lay legislation by the end of 2023 that will bring Physician Associates (PA) and Anaesthesia Associates (AA) into regulation, and we launched a consultation earlier this year on the draft legislation.
‘The government has also committed to reforming regulatory legislation for doctors as a top priority after the legislation for the regulation of PAs and AAs is laid.’
This new letter to the health secretary calls for section 40A of the Medical Act 1983 to be removed before the end of this parliament’s term.
The MPS said the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) has a ‘near identical right of appeal to MPTS decisions’ which should continue after the legislative change.
President at the MPS Professor Dame Jane Dacre said: ‘The delay is disappointing and frustrating and doctors will have this hanging over their heads until the relevant changes are made to the Medical Act.
‘The GMC’s power to appeal has generated distrust between the medical profession and the regulator and has contributed to a culture of fear.
‘Fitness to practise proceedings are stressful and lengthy enough for those involved, without the additional worry that the GMC can seek to override the decision made by the MPTS if it does not agree.’
She also said: ‘The added concern now is that when PAs and AAs are brought into statutory regulation, the GMC will not be able to appeal panel decisions relating to their fitness to practise, but they may still be able to challenge decisions on doctors’ cases – parity is key.’
The GMC has been able to appeal MPTS decisions in the High Court since 2017, but the 2018 Williams review into gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare, prompted by the high-profile Bawa-Garba case, recommended that it should lose these powers.
In response, then-health secretary Jeremy Hunt accepted the review’s recommendations in full and said that since the PSA has the same right of appeal ‘it is clear that there would be no gap in the law where regulatory action is being taken as a result of a serious criminal conviction’.
On the new letter to the health secretary, a GMC spokesperson said: ‘We have made it clear that we are not opposed to the decision of removing our right of appeal. The Government will now decide how and when to bring in these changes.
‘The fact that the government has stated it intends to legislate to remove it does not allow us to ignore our statutory duties.
‘We would be acting unlawfully if we did not give due consideration to the exercise of our powers to appeal a decision where the decision could reasonably be considered insufficient to protect the public.’
The regulator has previously sought independent legal advice from Sir Robert Francis QC who told the GMC that it ‘would not be lawful’ to ‘impose a moratorium’ on its right to appeal based on the Government’s intention to remove it.
Earlier this week, Pulse reported that doctor leaders will hold a vote of no confidence in the GMC during the BMA’s annual representative meeting (ARM) next month.
The letter to the Health Secretary calling for section 40A of the Medical Act 1983 to be removed before the end of this parliament, was signed by Medical Protection Society, British Medical Association, The Doctors’ Association UK, Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Emergency Medicine, British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, Association of Anaesthetists, Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, Royal College of Anaesthetists, Medical Women’s Federation, Royal College of Surgeons of England, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, British International Doctors Association, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Glasgow, Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh and Royal College of Pathologists.