Loophole leaves GPs on suspension without pay

GMC and PCTs must act in parallel to protect rights.

GPs awaiting fitness-to-practise hearings are being left without pay, thanks to a loophole in the regulations.

Doctors awaiting a hearing are barred from working by the GMC, after review by an interim order panel (IOP).

DoH guidance issued in 2004 suggests PCTs should remove doctors from their performers list at the same time. This will 'ensure that payments can still be made to the suspended practitioner', worth around 90 per cent of their last year's income.

However, a doctor may only be suspended from the performers list for a maximum of six months, far less than the nine-month average wait for a fitness-to-practise hearing. After that, the PCT is required to issue a new suspension order.

Dr Tony Grewal, medical director of Londonwide LMCs, said that some PCTs have allowed suspensions to lapse, removing their responsibility to ensure that income. 'In effect they're saying "We're not responsible if you don't work, and we're not paying you".'

The result is that GPs who have never been found guilty have been left without pay.

Dr Grewal said he was aware of three such cases to date. 'But as PCTs move to performance manage GPs, more and more will find themselves before an IOP. The numbers will shoot up,' he added.

Dr Priya Singh, medical director of the Medical Protection Society, said PCTs allowing suspensions to lapse was 'illogical.'

'The intent is that IOP suspension is a neutral act,' she said. 'But if a PCT decides it is not going to pay a doctor, it is effectively turning into something that is to their detriment.'

Dr Singh said GPs affected in this way could seek a judicial review, although this could drag on for several months. But the very threat of a review is often enough 'to make the PCT see sense', she added.

PCT Network director David Stout said he would expect PCT suspension to parallel GMC suspension.

At the recent LMCs conference, a motion calling for the two processes to 'mirror' each other passed with huge support.

jonn.elledge@haymarket.com

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