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Consultation supports stronger GMC sanctions against failing doctors

Strong support for proposals to improve patient protection and public confidence in doctors

Ingrid Torjesen

Thursday, 26 February 2015

A consultation has shown that there is widespread support for the General Medical Council’s proposals for stronger sanctions against the small number of doctors who put patients at significant risk or cause them harm.

More than two thousand people responded to the consultation on the guidance for fitness to practise panels of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS), which decide what sanction doctors should face when they are a risk to patients or have put the reputation of the profession at risk, including patients, doctors and professionals from across the health service.

The GMC will publish new guidance for MPTS fitness to practice panels reflecting on the consultation in the summer, which will also be used by GMC decision makers who decide whether or not to refer a doctor under investigation to an MPTS panel.

There was overwhelming support in the consultation for striking doctors off the register following predatory behaviour. A total of 78 per cent of respondents thought that panels should take more serious action in cases involving bullying, sexual harassment and physical violence towards colleagues and where patients had been put at risk, and 61 per cent supported stronger action where a doctor has discriminated against patients or other health professionals. However, 79 per cent agreed that the stage of a doctor’s career should be a mitigating factor when considering what action to take.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the General Medical Council, said: “There are more than a quarter of a million doctors in the UK and very few are ever subject to a sanction. This consultation is about how we deal with that small minority.

“The overwhelming response to the consultation, and the strong support for the proposals, will help us produce better guidance to protect patients and uphold public confidence in the good doctors who are providing effective, compassionate and safe care every day.”

The consultation document asked whether failing to apologise should affect the sanction a doctor faces, and the responses supported this to be included in the new guidance.

Mr Dickson said: “Until now this has not been highlighted as one of the factors which are likely to affect sanctions - that is now likely to change.” However, he added: “The consultation did not back the idea that doctors should be required to apologise - we had recognised that forced apologies might not be regarded as genuine and this concern was reflected in the consultation responses.”

His Honour David Pearl, chair of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, said: “The revised guidance will help ensure that in the most serious cases, appropriate sanctions are imposed that have the confidence of the public.”                      

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