The General Medical Council (GMC) is making “steady progress” in protecting patients, but needs to do more to build confidence in the professional regulation of doctors, say MPs.
In its annual review of the GMC, the House of Commons Health Committee reports that the GMC’s “fitness to practice” procedures do provide protection for patients from substandard doctors, but that failures to communicate the reasons for decisions and poor investigative practices have undermined a small number of investigations.
The MPs welcome the GMC’s hard work in putting in place effective safeguards to weed out the small number of doctors that present a risk to patients, but they are disappointed that in a small number of cases the GMC has not met its own high standards, said Stephen Dorrell MP, chair of the Health Committee.
“We found examples of the GMC failing to properly communicate decisions to complainants, and in another instance flawed decision-making meant that key information wasn’t gathered in relation to a case where a patient died,” he said, but added that these examples “are the exception rather than the rule.”
The Committee report also notes that, while the system of ongoing revalidation of doctors has been launched smoothly, the MPs still have “serious concerns” regarding the ability of responsible officers to oversee revalidation.
“The Committee is concerned that there appears to be a vacuum of personal responsibility in the process of revalidation. By definition, a ‘responsible officer’ should be held to account for the decision to revalidate an individual doctors, but the culture already appears to be developing that it is a ‘system responsibility’ rather than the personal responsibility of the responsible officer,” said Mr Dorrell.
“This development is dangerous and unprofessional – it is imperative that the GMC clarifies the personal responsibility and accountability of responsible officers,” he emphasised.
The MPs’ report also express concern that the government’s legislative programme is likely to further delay reforms that would allow the GMC to appeal “fitness to practice” tribunal decisions.
“In 2012 the Committee called for the government to give the GMC the right to appeal panel judgements – therefore it is very frustrating that this reform has met with even further delay. It appears that the government will only introduce a draft Law Commission Bill in the next session of Parliament and the likelihood of the Bill receiving Royal Assent before the general election is very remote,” said Mr Dorrell.
“It is essential that the GMC is able to appeal panel judgements in cases where they believe tribunals have failed to recognise the severity of failings in a doctor’s practice,” he said, and urged the government to introduce a Section 60 order to put this provision in place “as soon as possible.”