GMC seeks to reduce number of misconduct investigations

Recent proposals from the General Medical Council (GMC), the regulator of doctors, aim to ease the burden on doctors by reducing the number of investigations it conducts in relation to allegations of misconduct or poor treatment by doctors.

The GMC is an independent organisation that is responsible for registering doctors to practise in the UK. The GMC can limit a doctor’s right to practise medicine when their fitness to practise is impaired, or issue a warning when there has been a significant departure from the principles set out in their guidance for doctors.

A complaint to the GMC may often be brought by a patient in conjunction with a clinical negligence claim for compensation. This is not always the case though as the GMC made 2,750 investigations against doctors last year whilst the NHS received 11,497 clinical negligence claims for the year 2014/2015.

In dealing with complaints against a doctor’s fitness to practise the GMC propose to reduce the impact of the process by cutting the number of full investigations that it carries out. They hope to screen cases better after early inquiries and deal with more complaints locally by a doctor’s employer. They also propose a process in which a doctor may ‘pause’ investigations when they are suffering with mental health concerns.

These proposals follow a review carried out by Professor Louis Appleby who was appointed by the GMC to help reduce stress among doctors facing investigation. It was found that 28 doctors had killed themselves between 2005 and 2013 while undergoing GMC investigation. Appleby advises that the whole process needs to be less punitive and dealt with more sensitively, especially given that only 13% of all investigations lead to any sanction against individuals.

The new proposals seek to deal with such investigations in a more coordinated manner, increasing access and availability of support for doctors under investigation. Encouraging the use of early enquiries will endeavour to deal with and conclude complaints in a timely fashion whilst negating the requirement for a full investigation.

A fine balance has to be struck in ensuring the health and well-being of the public and of the members of our medical profession. The GMC hopes that preventative measures, such as reducing the number of full investigations it carries out, will have a positive impact on the latter.

Perhaps it is time, however, to consider such investigation processes in line with the implementation of a no-fault compensation system in the UK. It could be said that a system such as this would provide a course of action to patients who have concerns about the treatment they have received without causing doctors to fear lengthy investigations and sanctions.

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