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GPs given right to choose responsible officers

By Gareth Iacobucci

GPs will be able to choose an alternative responsible officer to run the rule over their revalidation if there as an ‘appearance of bias' against them, after the Government revised its regulations on the establishment of the local officers.

The Department of Health acknowledged that draft regulations on the officers, who will be responsible for recommending GPs to the GMC for revalidation, were ‘insufficient' to prevent potential conflicts of interest, and has opted to alter its proposals following consultation with key stakeholders, including the BMA.

The draft regulations – which have now been laid before parliament - had initially provided an option for organisations to nominate or appoint a second responsible officer where a definite conflict of interest existed.

But the Government chose to relax the requirements after respondents to the consultation said safeguards against conflicts of interest were insufficient, and that organisations would have ‘too much power to deny that a conflict of interest existed'.

The news represents a partial victory for GP leaders, who voted at the annual conference of LMCs that GPs must be given the choice of at least two responsible officers to run the rule over their path to revalidation.

The Government's response to the consultation said: ‘We have recognised the concerns raised by respondents and, in order to address the issue, we have revised the regulations to allow for an "appearance of bias" to also be a cause for nominating or appointing a second responsible officer.

‘The supporting guidance document issued alongside the regulations has also been strengthened to give more clarity on this issue by including examples of where a conflict of interest or appearance of bias may occur. The document also stresses the important role designated bodies need to play in ensuring proper governance of the process.'

Dr John Grenville, a GP in Derby, and secretary of Derbyshire LMCs, who proposed the motion at the LMCs conference, said the Government's acknowledgment was ‘a move in the right direction'.

He said: ‘The fact that the Government has recognised there is a problem means we should be able to come up with a solution.'

Dr Priya Singh, medical director at the Medical Protection Society, said the organisation was pleased that the Government had made its guidance ‘more robust', but said there were still issues to resolve around how potential conflicts would be handled.

Dr Singh said: ‘We welcome the acceptance that there could be an appearance of conflict.'

‘But we think there is still some way to go on making sure that there are safeguards for fairness. Mediation is not just a process, it is a mindset, and it's not our experience that there is even the process let alone the right mindset for mediation in the NHS.'

The Government intends that all responsible officers should be nominated or appointed in place by 1 January 2011.

Dr John Grenville said it was ‘a move in the right direction'