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Physician associates will be exempt from the ‘five-year rule’ which prevents the General Medical Council (GMC) from considering complaints more than five years old.
Until now, the GMC was restricted by a five-year limitation on the investigation of an allegation against a health professional.
However, legislation proposed by the Government on regulating physician and anaesthesia associates will no longer impose the rule, following a consultation in February which heard the rule was ‘arbitrary’.
In its response to the proposal, published 17 May, the GMC welcomed the change, adding it expects the rule to be removed for doctors too, with the reforms serving as a template for the regulation of other healthcare professionals.
The new regulation will also see the GMC able to resolve fitness to practise (FTP) cases more quickly, with new powers to administratively remove people convicted of serious criminal offences from register.
It will also grant the GMC powers to allow it to make and amend legally-binding rules that govern how it operates.
Key issues with the legislation, raised by the GMC, include reducing the number of grounds on which fitness to practise action can be taken from six to two – inability to provide care to a sufficient standard and misconduct.
The change – particularly dropping adverse health as a grounds – would risk unintended consequences, meaning the GMC would be required look at a person’s current ability to provide care rather than focus on risk.
The GMS said the move would undermine a compassionate approach to managing registrants’ health concerns and having to wait for harm to have occurred before it was able to intervene.
In 2021, Medical Protection flagged this change as a danger to ‘both patients and the doctor’.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has stated that the legislation for regulation of anaesthesia associates and physician associates will serve as a ‘template’ for reformed regulation of doctors.
In February, the DHSC said that ‘while we work towards laying the legislation that will bring AAs and PAs into regulation, we intend to continue to progress the reforms for medical practitioners as a top priority’.
The GMC therefore expects that the removal of the five-year rule for fitness to practice complaints will extend to future regulation of GPs and other doctors, however the timeline for this legislation is not yet known.
Charlie Massey, the GMC’s chief executive, said: ‘Our work is currently governed by legislation that is 40 years old and wildly misaligned to the needs of today’s patients and practitioners. We have been calling for change for some time, and so this is an important milestone. It is also a prelude to wider reforms that will affect all regulated healthcare professionals.
‘The Government must continue to deliver on its commitment to prioritise this work. A more flexible and modern approach to regulation, so we can work ‘upstream’ to prevent harm from occurring, will allow us to devote our energies to the work of highest priority – supporting clinicians to deliver first-class care for patients.’