GMC speeds up disciplinary action against doctorsBMJ 2000; 320 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.320.7233.466 (Published 19 February 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:466
The General Medical Council is seeking to reform its disciplinary procedures, following four years of internal discussions. Among the council's proposals are new powers to suspend doctors from the medical register during police investigations, and more assistance for patients who complain about doctors.
The new proposals, which were announced last week by Sir Donald Irvine, the GMC's president, follow public criticism of the GMC in the wake of the Harold Shipman case, the English GP jailed earlier this month for murdering 15 of his patients (5 February, p 331). Sir Donald admitted that the case had affected the council's announced modernisation programme but that it had prompted “acceleration of the programme that started four years ago rather than anything else.”
The council will review the possibility of increasing the proportion of lay members. There are, at present, 104 members of the council, 25 of whom are lay members. Asked whether lay members should become a majority, Sir Donald said: “I don't believe, and I don't think the council believes, that the principle of self regulation should be abandoned without a very careful debate.”
The council is also to consider appointing a majority of lay members on its “fitness to practise” committees to try to end what Sir Donald described as the council's “cosy club” image.
Because the council is a statutory body, it cannot change its regulations without a change in the law. It will now seek legislation from the government providing it with a general power of interim suspension, which can be used during any stage of disciplinary procedures, for protection either of the patient's or of the doctor's interests.
Sir Donald said that the council was also keen to tackle the backlog of disciplinary cases waiting to be heard, which now stood at 160. Such a backlog was not fair to patients or doctors, he said. To reduce the number of outstanding cases this year, the council is planning to run parallel hearings, with more than one committee sitting at a time.