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GMC gets new powers to challenge tribunal decisions

Amendments to the Medical Act will speed up hearings and revise how costs are awarded

Mark Gould

Monday, 04 January 2016

The GMC has been given new powers to challenge decisions of the tribunals that hear cases against doctors who are alleged to have breached GMC standards.

Changes to the Medical Act mean the GMC can now appeal against tribunal decisions to the High Court across the UK when it considers the tribunal has not adequately protected patients. Hearings for doctors suspected of breaching the GMC’s standards are run by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) which was launched in 2012. The MPTS makes independent decisions and operates separately from the investigatory role performed by the Fitness to Practise arm of the GMC.

The lchanges will also see reforms to the way the GMC investigations and MPTS hearings are handled. These include:

  • The MPTS will be placed on a statutory footing
  • cutting the length of hearings with robust case management
  • Giving the MPTS the power to award costs if either the GMC or the doctor fails to comply with directions and behaves unreasonably in the conduct of proceedings
  • Introducing a legally qualified chair instead of a chair and legal assessor in some hearings

The GMC says the changes underline the separation of its investigations from the tribunal service and strengthens the GMC's role as a patient safety organisation.

GMC chief executive Neill Dickson said: "The new right of appeal and the establishment of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service as a statutory body are huge strides in UK professional regulation. This will help us to make sure doctors receive the support they require and patients receive high quality care.

"The new law underlines the separation of our investigations from the tribunal service and thereby strengthen our role as a patient safety organisation. These changes will also make investigations and hearings more proportionate, faster and more efficient.

"We have been campaigning for the right to appeal MPTS panel decisions for some time and although we may not use the power often, the changes are essential for patients, professionals and healthcare systems across the UK."

Doctors already have a power to appeal to the High Court against MPTS decisions. Before these changes only the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), the watchdog responsible for overseeing the UK’s healthcare professional regulatory bodies, could consider referring cases to the relevant court. Six decisions have been challenged by the PSA in the past three years, with the majority resulting in more serious outcomes following agreement between the parties. The GMC will set clear criteria for deciding whether a decision meets the threshold to be appealed.

His Honour David Pearl, Chair of the MPTS, said: "These changes make it clear that the MPTS is an operationally separate tribunal, underlined by the GMC’s new right of appeal and the responsibility on the part of the MPTS to report directly to Parliament each year.

"Our ambition is to reduce the average length of MPTS hearings, to reduce the pressure on doctors and witnesses. With these changes, I’m confident we will be able to achieve that."

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