Defence bodies fear unfair rulings under civil standard

GMC to base decisions on civil standard of proof from next week.

Medical defence experts are bracing themselves for an upsurge in appeals and legal challenges following civil standard of proof introduction in GMC fitness-to-practise hearings from 31 May.

Defence societies expect the numbers of doctors suspended or erased to increase when the 'much lower standard of proof' comes into force.

They add that the new standard will lead to 'inconsistent and unfair' decisions.

Dr Hugh Stewart, head of case decisions at the Medical Defence Union (MDU), said: 'Panels will find it difficult where there are different charges and there will be inconsistencies between panels.'

Findings in cases where the facts are disputed will now be assessed on the balance of probabilities, after the GMC ditched the criminal standard requiring proof beyond all reasonable doubt.

The imposition of the new standard with no transition period is itself likely to be the subject of legal challenge, Dr Stewart said.

Dr Stephanie Bown, director of policy and communications for the Medical Protection Society (MPS), said: 'We are concerned that the civil standard will give rise to increased numbers with impaired fitness-to-practise with all the sanctions that can then follow.'

The GMC has stressed that the new standard will be applied flexibly so that more cogent evidence will be required for more serious allegations and that it expects no increase in suspensions or erasures.

The GMC has written to 167 doctors in the queue for hearing and who will now face a new standard of proof.

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