Prime minister Gordon Brown announced that the switch to the civil from the criminal standard of proof - already sanctioned and timetabled by the GMC - will be enshrined in a Health and Social Care Bill to be introduced in the next parliamentary session.
The draft Bill will also see the appointment of local 'responsible officers to work with the GMC to identify and handle cases of poor professional performance by doctors'. An independent body will be created to take over the sentencing functions of the GMC in fitness-to-practise cases.
The Bill will also introduce Ofcare, a new regulator that will take over from the Healthcare Commission and embrace social care as well as health.
Mr Brown said: 'The Health and Social Care Bill will create a stronger health and social care regulator, and there will be a clear remit to ensure improved access, clean and safe services, and high-quality care.'
BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum hit back at the move to judge doctors on the balance of probability (civil standard) rather than beyond reasonable doubt (criminal standard).
'The BMA's members have made it very clear that they are against using a balance of probabilities to take away a doctor's livelihood. Nothing less than the criminal standard of proof is acceptable,' he said. 'BMA members would strongly oppose any plan to degrade the standard of proof when their whole career is on the line.'
Last month the BMA's Annual Representatives Meeting voted to oppose any switch away from 'beyond reasonable doubt' as the standard of proof in fitness-to-practise hearings (GP, 29 June).
Dr Meldrum dismissed the idea of local performance monitors as 'unworkable'.
The BMA backs regional contacts rather than an employer-based network.
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