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Delays experienced by doctors suspended by GMC

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7205.322a (Published 31 July 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:322

Delays are worst for doctors on short term contracts

  1. Steve Cox, Vocational training scheme course organiser
  1. Chiltern Postgraduate Medical Centre, Wycombe Hospital, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire HP11 2TT
  2. General Medical Council, London W1N 6JE

    EDITOR—I am sending this letter on behalf of a trainers group. We are concernedat the delay experienced by doctors who are called before the General Medical Council's disciplinary hearing system. We have particular concern for doctors who at the time of suspension are employed on short term contracts, particularly general practice registrars.

    We understand that at the moment the system takes about 18 months from the time of complaint or suspension. Whereas career grade medical practitioners are suspended on full pay, doctors on short term contracts receive no income after the end of their contract. As they are unable to practise they suffer severe financial losses pending the result of the inquiry.

    A delay of 18 months for processing complaints seems unacceptable. We understand thatsome initial delay is necessary to allow full investigation of the complaint, but for accuracy this should occur as speedily as possible. The case should then be able to proceed to resolution at the earliest opportunity. We fail to see how a delay of more than sixmonths to complete the case can be justified.

    It is not clear what the bottlenecks in the system are, but we appeal to the profession to ensure that they are overcome so that the public and the profession can receive a fair outcome more efficiently than at present.

    GMC's reply

    1. D Irvine, President
    1. Chiltern Postgraduate Medical Centre, Wycombe Hospital, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire HP11 2TT
    2. General Medical Council, London W1N 6JE

      EDITOR—I take it that Cox's concerns are particularly about the time taken by those cases (a small minority of complaints received) that are referred by the preliminary proceedings committee of the General Medical Council to the professional conduct committee. The points that Cox has raised need to be seen in the context of a steep increase in the number of complaints against doctors—3000 in 1998 compared with around 1000five years earlier. The council is recruiting more staff to deal with complaints at the same rate.

      Once a decision has been taken to refer a case to the preliminary proceedings committee there will inevitably be some delay in listing the case while barristers are instructed, the charge drafted, and documents served on the doctor. The interests of fairness also demand that the doctor and his or her lawyers should be given sufficient time to prepare their defence. I recognise, however, that delays can also occur because of the largenumbers of cases awaiting hearings. At the end of March 1999, 100 cases that had been referred for inquiry had not yet been considered by the professional conduct committee. The time that had elapsed since they had been referred to the committee was: 0-3 months, 34 cases; 3-6 months, 15; 6-12 months, 37; and over 12 months, 14.

      Time also elapses between the original complaint to the General Medical Council and referral to the professional conduct committee. Again, there are legitimate reasons for that—the need to obtain documents and statements and make inquiries to see if thereis a case to answer—but we are not complacent and are looking critically at our processes to see if they can be speeded up without any threat to natural justice.

      We have taken steps to reduce the time that doctors wait for their cases to be heard by the professional conduct committee. The committee now sits more frequently; additional sessions have been held; and more sessions are planned this year and in 2000, when we plan to run two panels simultaneously on most days.

      These efforts will, we believe, reduce the waiting time and will, as Cox says, be fairer to both the public and the profession.

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