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Regulators need greater flexibility to adapt to demands

Outdated and inflexible legislation prevents GMC from supporting doctors and protecting patients

Louise Prime

Thursday, 25 January 2018

It is vital that legislation becomes less prescriptive to allow regulators to adapt to changing current and future demands in the medical workforce, the General Medical Council (GMC) has insisted. Only last week, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) also urged the government to free up healthcare regulators so they can do their job better.

Both the GMC and MDU have responded to the government’s consultation on regulatory reform, which has just closed. In its written response, the GMC claimed that its efforts to innovate, protect patient safety and support the education and training of doctors will be hamstrung without urgent reforms, and urged the government to proceed with legislative change.

The regulator said it is currently “forced to work under an historic patchwork of highly prescriptive legislation which results in systems that are slow, bureaucratic and burdensome”, which benefits neither patients nor doctors. It argued that without legislative reform it cannot streamline its processes to deliver a model of regulation that is sufficiently flexible and adaptable to the needs of the modern medical workforce.

It pointed out that current legislation obliges about 850 doctors a year, who are qualified and willing to work as GPs or NHS consultants, to submit more than 1000 pages of evidence to the GMC to get onto its specialist register – just because they haven’t followed traditional training paths.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: “Successive governments have repeatedly promised to reform the GMC’s legislative framework and repeatedly failed to deliver. The need for reform is growing more acute with each year that passes. It is crucial the government now takes the opportunity to commit to reform as it considers responses to its consultation.

“Our ambition to innovate and act at pace is hampered by current legislation, which is far too prescriptive. Too often we know how we would like to regulate but we are unable to make changes because of the cumbersome process necessary to deliver them.”

He also claimed that current legislation forces the GMC to pursue investigations that would be better dealt with in other ways; about three-quarters of its investigations close with no further action. He said: “This causes needless distress for both doctors and patients. It is also a waste of resources; we would like to put these to better use by supporting good practice and professionalism and preventing harm.’

In its own response the MDU argued that regulatory reform has been ‘talked about for far too long’ and called for urgent action to reduce the time, stress and cost of regulatory procedures. Its deputy head of advisory services Dr Catherine Wills said: “Regulators such as the GMC urgently need to be freed from outdated legal structures that impede reform and modernisation. This would allow the GMC to continue to make the changes needed to introduce a more proportionate system of regulation.

“While the regulators can’t influence the number of complaints they receive, they know they can do a lot to investigate cases more swiftly and fairly. For example, the MDU believes it is in members’ interests for the GMC to be given powers to reduce the number of unnecessary, stressful and costly fitness to practise hearings. It should also be able to reform and improve its application process for specialists and general practitioners so that it is faster, less bureaucratic and cheaper.”

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