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RCGP chair calls for ‘urgent review’ of support for doctors under GMC investigation

RCGP chair Professor Clare Gerada has called for an ‘urgent review’ of the impact of GMC investigations, after she claimed that the time taken to review cases was adversely affecting the finances and mental health of doctors.

Professor Gerada claimed that many of the doctors using the mental health and addiction advice service she helps run in London were being investigated by the GMC and were being forced to claim benefits as they could not work.

Professor Gerada – who is medical director for the Practitioner Health Programme in London - cited figures from a 2012 review of cases handled by the advice service that showed 29% were also involved with the GMC or General Dental Council, the vast majority of whom were diagnosed with a mental health condition and potentially had a number of co-morbidities.

The comments come after the GMC began an internal review of potential suicides by doctors under FTP investigations in September. It also recently announced that the regulator had already adopted a ‘new tone’ in communications with doctors at risk of self-harm.

Professor Gerada said on the social media site, Twitter that she thought a lot could be learnt from the suffering of those undergoing GMC investigations.

She said: ‘I think delays, the costs of proceedings and disproportionate nature of sanctions needs urgent review.

She added: ‘PHP has many patients (doctors) who have to claim benefit whilst waiting for their GMC hearing. Justice delayed, is justice denied.’

Professor Gerada recognised that although the GMC had improved its approach and handling of cases where a doctor is under investigation for health reasons, there are ‘still significant delays in the system’.

Separately, she told Pulse: ‘More often than not a doctor is suspended whilst investigations are carried out and whilst awaiting a fitness to practise hearing. This can take up to 15 to 18 months and if the doctor is suspended many cannot earn money - for example if they are locum posts, fix term contacts, private practice or in some cases their employer sacks them.

‘A significant number of doctors in our service who are involved in GMC processes have financial issues as a result of delay - and some are forced to sign on for benefits and to borrow money.’

‘The GMC are reviewing suicides and death of doctors whilst under their processes but maybe it’s time to look at the financial as well as psychological side of the process.’

The GMC reiterated an earlier statement from chief executive Niall Dickson who said that they were already looking into better support for doctors under investigation.

He said: ‘We are piloting meetings with doctors to hear their side of the story earlier and we have commissioned the BMA’s Doctors for Doctors service to provide confidential emotional support to any doctor involved in a fitness to practise case who wants it.’