GMC forces doctors to 'practise in fear', Scottish GPs warn

The GMC is 'creating a climate where doctors practise in fear for their registration', leading GPs have warned at the Scottish LMCs conference.

Dr John Ip: warning over 'climate of fear' (Photo: Douglas Robertson)
Dr John Ip: warning over 'climate of fear' (Photo: Douglas Robertson)

GMC fitness to practise proceedings operate as if GPs are ‘guilty until proven innocent’, Glasgow LMC’s Dr John Ip told the conference in Clydebank, near Glasgow, on Friday.

He argued that the ‘stressful, confusing and intrusive’ process ‘lacked compassion’ and was having a detrimental cost to GPs – forcing them to change the way they practise and damaging their health.

He won support from the majority of attending delegates that the GMC was creating a ‘climate of fear’, despite opposition from former GPC Scotland chairman Dr Dean Marshall.

Delegates also voted that GPs in Scotland should no longer be forced to attend fitness to practise panels at venues outside of Scotland, as is currently the case.

Dr Ip declined suggestions to take this aspect of the motion as a reference, saying it was not right to wrench GPs so far away from their homes and support structures during this stressful time. After winning the vote, this now goes on to become GPC policy.

GMC 'not failing doctors'

But motions claiming that the GMC was ‘inhumane’ and ‘failing doctors’ were lost, with the majority voting against them, despite a large proportion of delegates abstaining from the vote.

Dr Marshall, also the GPC’s revalidation lead, argued that although the GMC ‘does do some things particularly badly’, it is ‘not inhumane and it is not intrusive’.

Due to his past role as an LMC secretary and current role as an assessor, he told the conference he was well placed to look at the whole process, and urged delegates to vote against the motion.

‘We need to be very careful saying the GMC is failing doctors,’ he warned.

He claimed it would be more cost-effective to subsidise trips south of the border to attend fitness to practise meetings than relocate them to Scotland, but Dr Andrew Buist, deputy chairman of GPC Scotland, said he did not share concerns that it would be too expensive to host these in Scotland.

The conference also voted unanimously to implement recommendations made in an independent report by National Patient Safety Executive chief executive Sarndrah Horsfall to reduce cases of suicide among doctors undergoing fitness to practise investigations.

Laws are outdated

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘We have in place a comprehensive set of reforms to speed up our processes, reduce the stress of our investigations, and better support doctors who have their fitness to practise called into question.

‘These include reviewing the tone of our communications with doctors to make them clearer, simpler, and more sensitive.

‘There is much we have done and much still for us to do. However, the law that governs professional regulation is outdated and we are prevented from going further. The reforms we have been campaigning for, in the shape of the Law Commission’s Regulation of Health and Social Care Professionals Bill, would allow us to be more independent and modernise our procedures. We hope that the government will introduce this legislation as soon as possible.’

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