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Hundreds of doctors withheld from GP register by ‘historic’ laws, says GMC

Hundreds of qualified doctors a year are held back from joining the specialist registers due to outdated regulatory legislation, the GMC has warned.

The doctor regulator is urging the Government to bring in legislation that will allow it to deliver ‘flexible and adaptable’ regulation that is fit for ‘the modern medical workforce’. 

The GMC’s comments come in response to the Department of Health’s consultation on reducing the number of healthcare regulators in the UK from a current nine bodies down to ‘three or four’, which launched in October.

In its response to the consultation, which closed yesterday, the GMC said reducing the number of regulators ‘may not, in itself, address this issue’ and instead called for ‘less prescriptive legislation’.

The GMC said they are ‘forced to work under an historic patchwork of highly prescriptive legislation, which results in systems that are slow, bureaucratic and burdensome’.

It added that this means when 850 doctors apply each year to be on the specialist or GP registers without having gone through ‘conventional postgraduate training programmes’, they are forced to submit over 1,000 pages of evidence ‘that can take months to complete’.

The GMC said: ‘This has a direct impact on the speed with which doctors can be brought into the health system. But we cannot change the system without legislative reform.’

Meanwhile, the number of full-time equivalent GPs on the frontline is in decline in England with 1,200 fewer GPs in the workforce between September 2016 and September 2017.

Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC, said the need for reform is ‘growing more acute’.

He said: ‘What we need is a new and future-proofed regulatory architecture rather than slight remodeling of the existing detail.’ 

He added that current legislation forces the GMC to pursue investigations unnecessarily with around 75% of investigations closing with no further action. 

He said: ‘This causes needless distress for both doctors and patients. It is also a waste of resources; we would like to put these to better use by supporting good practice and professionalism and preventing harm.’

Meanwhile the Medical Protection Society agreed in its own consultation response that the GMC is not given enough discretion to decide when fitness to practice cases are worth investigating and warned against the creation of a ‘super-regulator’ that would ‘lack expertise and understanding of the distinct professions’.

Dr Pallavi Bradshaw, senior medicolegal adviser at MPS, said: ‘We support doctors and other healthcare professionals day in day out as they go through this often long, complex process and see the physical and psychological impact. 

‘A range of improvements are needed, and this consultation presents a real opportunity to bring the legislation that underpins regulation up to date, while retaining the important statutory safeguards that ensure a transparent, consistent and fair Fitness to Practise process for all.’

Is Fitness to Practise fit for purpose?

The GMC has previously pledged to introduce ‘resilience training’ similar to that offered to soldiers in Afghanistan in order to be prepared for the ‘occupational hazard’ of a GMC investigation.

A review launched by the GMC proposed doctors with mental health or addiction issues should be spared full investigation and ensuring all doctors have access to mental health support – like the BMA’s Doctors-for-Doctors which is backed by the GMC.

And this came after Pulse has published a series of articles about the pressure that GMC procedures put on vulnerable doctors, including a report that found that 28 doctors had died by suicide while under investigation and that 13 additional doctors died while the regulator contemplated action.

Another study has shown that complaints against doctors ‘may do more overall harm than good’.


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