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New GMC approach slashes number of fitness-to-practise investigations


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Exclusive The number of doctors investigated by the GMC fell to the lowest level in almost a decade last year, Pulse can reveal.

The number of investigations fell by more than 800 in 2016 – roughly one-third – despite the number of complaints to the GMC hitting the highest level in the time period.

In an exclusive interview with Pulse, GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said this followed the regulator’s adoption of a ‘more discerning approach’ to which cases are progressed to investigation.

The GMC received 9,140 complaints about doctors in 2016, resulting in 1,428 fitness-to-practise investigations, 229 hearings and 93 suspensions.

By contrast in the previous year, 8,269 complaints resulted in 2,240 investigations, 239 hearings and 94 suspensions.

The news comes as Pulse revealed last year that GMC would no longer pursue formal fitness-to-practise investigations when a complaint was made following a one-off clinical mistake.

This was part of a programme of improvements it had been implementing to make its processes less burdensome on doctors following the deaths by suicide of a number of doctors while under GMC investigation.

Mr Massey said: ‘We’ve been piloting an early enquiries process, which has helped to reduce the number of cases we push through to investigation, and indeed in 2016, we had about 800 fewer investigations than we’d had the previous year.’

According to Mr Massey, a major change to the process included filtering complaints by making informal enquiries following a complaint.

The GMC said other changes included working with responsible officers to ensure that, when appropriate, cases were dealt with locally. It also said it was routinely inviting more doctors for a meeting at the end of an investigation to get more information before deciding whether a hearing was necessary.

Further, the GMC now asks employers referring a doctor to sign a disclosure stating ‘this complaint is made in good faith’ in a bid to discourage vexatious complaints against whistleblowers.

Mr Massey also told Pulse that the BMA-led support service for doctors was helping to ‘train our GMC investigators’ and that the GMC is in the process of introducing a mechanism that will be able to pause actions when a doctor is unwell and needs support.

Professor Clare Gerada, medical director for national GP mental health support provider Practitioner Health Programme, said: ‘Overall this is good news. It is not just the figures, but overall the system is becoming more humane.

‘It is quicker, more empathetic and does address the needs of the doctor – something folk like me have been advocating for.’

But GPC deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey said the GMC should aim to do more.

He said: ‘It’s incredibly stressful for any doctor to know that a complaint about them has been made to the GMC. For most, this will have been the first time in their career and they will be very worried that a complaint automatically means the GMC will be taking action against them.

‘These figures demonstrate how few complaints actually lead to such punitive action and the GMC should do more to make this clear to all doctors to help provide some reassurance should an unjustified complaint be made against them.’

Number of doctors investigated by the GMC in each year since 2008

 Year Complaints Investigations Hearings Erased Suspended

2008

4,261

1,414

204

42

75

2009

4,633

1,739

270

68

77

2010

5,622

2,063

326

73

106

2011

7,437

2,263

250

65

93

2012

8,650

2,645

220

55

64

2013

9,061

2,982

232

55

86

2014

8,847

2,719

237

71

86

2015

8,269

2,240

239

72

94

2016

9,140

1,428

229

70

93

 Source: GMC