Thirteen healthcare organisations have repeated a call for the Government to deliver on a commitment to remove the General Medical Council’s (GMC) power to appeal fitness to practice decisions.
In a letter to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the Medical Protection Society urged the Government to use the forthcoming Health and Social Care Bill as an opportunity to remove the GMC’s ability to appeal such decisions made by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS).
The letter – also signed by the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) – said that this would help to address the mistrust of the GMC amongst doctors and contribute to cultivating a culture of openness.
Removing the GMC’s right to appeal
In 2018, the Government accepted ‘in full’, the recommendations of the Williams review into gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare, which included removing the GMC’s right to appeal FTP decisions.
The review was set up to look at concerns among healthcare professionals that simple errors could result in prosecution for gross negligence manslaughter, following the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba.
It concluded that removing the GMC’s power would not reduce public protection, as the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) would retain a similar right to appeal.
A consultation document published by the Government in March 2021 outlined its recommitment to removing this power.
The Medical Protection Society said that data it obtained via FOI indicates the GMC has challenged at least 14 MPTS decisions since the start of 2018.
The letter to the Secretary of State said: ‘We were pleased to see the recent white paper confirm that the Government plans to consult further on its broader reform proposals with the aim that these be delivered through secondary legislation.
‘The forthcoming Health and Social Care Bill seems an excellent opportunity to amend the Medical Act 1983 by removing section 40A. We urge you to include such provisions in the Health and Care Bill and bring forward a timetable for reform.’
Pandemic highlighted high-pressure workplaces
‘Now more than ever, the regulator needs to be able to operate in a way that instils confidence amongst patients and doctors,’ said Professor Dame Jane Dacre, Medical Protection Society president.
‘The GMC’s power to appeal decisions made by the MPTS has led to fear across the medical profession and a lack of confidence in the GMC. It is also unnecessary as the PSA has the authority to appeal decisions. The GMC is the only UK health regulator that has such a right of appeal.’
While she welcomed the Government’s recommitment made in March this year, she flagged that it has been ‘almost three years’ since the review was published.
More recently, the Covid-19 pandemic has ‘sparked discussion about the extent to which individuals should be held to account when working in pressurised and extreme circumstances,’ she said.
‘Implementing this change as part of the forthcoming Health and Social Care Bill would give the profession confidence that their concerns and the recommendations of the Williams review are now being acted on,’ she commented.