Campaigners warn NHS faces 'breakdown' unless GMC appeals are stopped

Campaigners have urged the health secretary to stop GMC appeals against medical tribunal decisions immediately, warning the NHS faces further 'breakdown' if the regulator continues to use this power.

In a letter to health and social care secretary Matt Hancock, the Doctors Association UK (DAUK) and others including campaign group GP Survival voiced ‘collective concern’ over the GMC’s decision to continue to appeal decisions by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) in court following the Bawa-Garba case.

The government set out plans to strip the the GMC of its power to appeal decisions made by the MPTS after a review triggered by the damaging, high-profile case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba - struck off after a GMC appeal against a tribunal ruling, but later reinstated.

The government review warned GMC appeals had created 'fear and mistrust' among doctors and were 'deterring reflection and learning from errors to the detriment of patient safety'.

Tribunal appeal

However, the government has yet to pass legislation to remove the GMC's power of appeal, and GPonline revealed last monht that the regulator is currently appealing four tribunal decisions.

In each of these cases, the GMC is asking the Court of Appeal to replace an MPTS decision with a more severe sanction.  In three cases it is recommending - as it did in the Bawa-Garba case - that suspension be substituted for erasure from the medical register.

The letter, signed by 14 representatives from 11 different organisations, urged Mr Hancock to ‘call upon the GMC to cease appealing MPTS verdicts’ and confirm when the regulator’s right to appeal will be repealed, as recommended by the Williams review earlier this year.

The letter reads: ‘We, the undersigned, all agree that the GMC cannot be trusted to take a balanced and considered approach in the sanction of doctors who have made honest mistakes in the context of system failures.

Alarm

‘It is therefore with alarm that we greet the news that the GMC has continued to appeal MPTS verdicts in the court. Indeed, just last week Lord Justice Bean urged that the GMC show "restraint" when exercising this power in the judgment of Raychaudhuri v GMC on the 14th September.’

The GMC has previously stated that it will ‘continue to take action when necessary if we believe a tribunal decision might not adequately protect patients, or maintain the public’s confidence in the profession'. GMC appeals have been upheld in 18 out of 24 cases since 2015.

Responding to the letter, a GMC spokesperson said: ‘We’re listening to doctors and working hard to address concerns brought to light by Dr Bawa-Garba’s case through a programme of work to better support the profession.

‘We never take the decision to appeal a Medical Practitioners Tribunal finding lightly. Earlier this year, the Williams review found that we had used our powers appropriately, with a high rate of success, and in so doing improved patient safety.’

A DHSC spokesperson said last month: ‘The government has accepted all recommendations from the Williams review [and] the options for delivery of those recommendations are currently being explored. Up until legislation comes into effect, the GMC will still have the right to appeal MPTS decisions.

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