The General Medical Council has launched a major consultation to improve patient protection and public confidence in doctors, seeking views on a proposed tougher stance against those who have harmed patients.

One of a number of proposals would see doctors face restrictions on their practice, suspension or even have their registration removed if it is shown that they knew or should have known they were causing harm to patients in serious cases. This could happen even if they subsequently improved their practice.

Specifically, the GMC is seeking views on imposing sanctions where doctors make serious clinical errors, “even where they have successfully retrained and improved their practice, if they failed to heed concerns and take steps to protect patients sooner”.

It is also consulting on whether panels should require a doctor to apologise where they previously failed to do so. Other issues being discussed is imposing more serious action where doctors fail to raise concerns about a colleague’s fitness to practise or where a doctor has bullied colleagues and put patients at risk.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said that “doctors are among the most trusted professionals, and rightly so, and they deserve to be treated fairly. In the vast majority of cases one-off clinical errors do not merit any action by the GMC. But if we are to maintain that trust, in the small number of serious cases where doctors fail to listen to concerns and take action sooner to protect patients, they should be held to account for their actions”.

He added that “it is also right that patients or their families are told what went wrong and if appropriate they should be given a full apology”. The GMC believes “this should be taken into account when deciding what if any sanction needs to be imposed to protect future patients and uphold the reputation of the profession”.

The consultation, which includes events for patient groups, doctors, their representatives and lawyers, runs until November 14. The GMC will publish the outcome in 2015.