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Doctors’ engagement in tribunals linked to decisions

Non-attendance tends to lead to graver outcome

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 03 December 2019

New research from the General Medical Council (GMC) finds that tribunal decision outcomes are linked to doctors’ engagement with the process.

The peer-reviewed study* published in the journal BMC Medicine found that doctors who did not attend their hearing or lacked legal representation tended to receive more serious outcomes.

In contrast, there was no association between the seriousness of tribunal outcomes and a doctor’s age, race, sex, or whether they gained their primary medical qualification in the UK or abroad.

The research was carried out as part of the GMC’s ongoing programme of work to check if cases are handled fairly, and tribunal decisions are free from bias and discrimination.

It was a study of all 1,049 doctors referred for hearings at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service and receiving an outcome from June 2012 to May 2017.

This was 0.34 % of a total of 310,659 doctors registered at any point during the period. In order of increasing seriousness, the outcomes were: no impairment to practise, impairment, suspension of right to practise or erasure from the medical register.

The type of allegations and where a referral came from also played an important role in the outcomes. For example, allegations of performance related to less serious outcomes, whilst those of conviction led to stricter sanctions.

Commenting, Charlie Massey, chief executive of the GMC said: “Given the strong link between more serious outcomes and doctors not attending or having no legal representation at tribunals, we are exploring how we can encourage doctors to engage with the hearing process more.

“We are also continuing our work to tackle the disproportionate representation of some groups of doctors in referrals to a tribunal hearing. We know that doctors who are black and minority ethnic, male, older or non-UK graduates continue to be referred more often to our processes.”

Commenting on the findings, Chris Kenny, CEO of the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland, said: “This report underlines how important it is for doctors to be members of a Medical Defence Organisation - even after the introduction of state-backed indemnity in England and Wales, which does not cover support for events such as GMC referrals.

“We believe it strengthens our call for the GMC to prescribe MDO membership, or equivalent arrangements, as a regulatory requirement across the board.”

*Caballero JA and Brown SP. Engagement, not personal characteristics, was associated with the seriousness of regulatory adjudication decisions about physicians: a cross-sectional study. BMC Med. 2019 Nov 27;17(1):211. DOI: 10.1186/s12916-019-1451-1.

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