Scrapping the five-year expiry date on fitness-to-practise (FTP) complaints risks subjecting doctors to GMC investigations ‘routinely and needlessly’, a GP defence organisation has warned.
Under current regulations, the GMC cannot investigate allegations if they happened more than five years ago, unless ‘the registrar considers that it is in the public interest for it to proceed’.
But Department of Health and Social Care has proposed, as part of its wider consultation on regulating professionals and protecting the public, to ‘remove the five-year rule, allowing regulators greater discretion to consider whether a concern should be considered’.
The consultation document said: ‘While the time since a concern arose is a relevant consideration in assessing fitness to practise, it should not be a limitation on whether an incident can be considered as the basis for a FTP concern.’
But Medical Defence Union deputy head of advisory services Dr Catherine Wills pointed out that the GMC can already ‘investigate a concern or complaint that is older than five years if there is a public interest in doing so’.
She argued that this ‘ensures the fitness to practise process is focused on whether a doctor’s practice is currently impaired and whether conditions are required on their registration to protect patients’.
And warned: ‘Without the five-year rule, there is a risk that doctors will be routinely and needlessly subjected to FTP proceedings for historic complaints where there is no question of current impairment or risk to patients.’
But a GMC spokesperson said that it was ‘important that patients are not blocked from having their concerns considered, where appropriate’.
The added: ‘[We recognise the five-year rule has been an ongoing source of frustration for many complaints.
‘We believe that concerns should be considered on the merits of evidence and the risk to public protection, not an arbitrary time limit, and support removal of the rule as part of the wider changes being proposed.’
The MDU’s warning comes as two other defence organisations – MPS and MDDUS – both voiced concerns about the consultation proposal for GMC to investigate doctors with health concerns under ‘a lack of competence’ earlier this week.
A version of this article was previously published by Pulse’s sister title Healthcare Leader