Trust chiefs cause flood of serious cases to GMC

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 18 May 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1177
  1. Katherine Burke
  1. London

    Nearly two thirds of professional conduct complaints languish for more than a year between committees because of an upsurge in the number of serious cases referred to the General Medical Council.

    The GMC has admitted that some “fitness to practise” complaints take over two years to deal with because the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) cannot keep up with the caseload referred to it.

    Fitness to practise figures show that the committee heard only 35% of conduct cases within a year, compared with a target of 90% (for cases referred to it by the Preliminary Proceedings Committee between 1 July 2000 and 31 December 2001).

    At a preview of the GMC's council meeting next week, chief executive Finlay Scott said that increasingly vigilant trust chiefs and medical directors are causing a flood of serious fitness to practise cases.

    Two years ago about 40 cases were in the professional conduct queue compared with 240 cases now, with a “very sharp” increase in waiting times, said Finlay Scott.

    “We think that the introduction of clinical governance and other management mechanisms for dealing with poor practice are having the effect of flushing out longstanding problems,” he added.

    Whereas the GMC takes forward only about one in five of the complaints brought by the general public, it pursues about 70% of those from health authorities or trusts.

    The GMC has responded by expanding the number of PCC panels to six and almost doubling the number of days the committee sits—from 242 days in 2000 to 479 last year. And the council plans to investigate cases more quickly—it has already appointed a second firm of solicitors, and a third firm is to be contracted soon.

    “For the first time in quite a number of years we're beginning to make inroads into the backlog. We're pretty confident that by the end of 2002 we will be very close to, if not on target for, getting 90% of PCC cases heard within a year,” said Mr Scott.

    Of 122 doctors referred to the council's health committee in 2001, more than half (60%) had problems involving alcohol either on its own or in association with drugs or mental conditions, the council's papers show.

    • The GMC paid out nearly £1m ($1.5m; €1.6m) in trustees' travel, accommodation, subsistence, and locum expenses during 2001, the council's accounts show. In addition, trustees received £1.5m in attendance allowances, honorariums, and locum payments to related parties. Donald Irvine, former GMC president, received £169393 in attendance allowances and honorariums.

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