Failure to remove GMC power of appeal leaves experts 'deeply concerned'

Medico-legal experts are 'deeply concerned' at the government's failure to strip the GMC of its power to appeal fitness to practise decisions, more than a year after a landmark review.

A review of gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare by Professor Sir Norman Williams, triggered by the high-profile case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, recommended removing the GMC's power to appeal against fitness to practise rulings by the Medical Pracititioners Tribunal Service (MPTS).

Professor Sir Norman's findings, published in June 2018, were immediately backed in full by the government - but legislation to implement the changes has yet to be put forward. As a result, the GMC has continued to appeal against fitness to practise decisions.

In its response to an annual review of the GMC by the Professional Standards Authority, the Medical Protection Society (MPS) has warned that it is 'deeply concerned and frustrated that the GMC maintains its power to appeal fitness to practise decisions, despite the government’s ongoing commitment to removing it'.

Fitness to practise

The MPS - one of the main providers of medico-legal support to UK GPs - has called for a 'simple and swift legislative measure' as a matter of urgency to push the reforms through.

MPS medical director Dr Rob Hendry said: 'We remain deeply concerned and increasingly frustrated, that the GMC maintains the right of appeal over fitness to practise determinations of the MPTS.

'The government has agreed to remove the power, but until the relevant legislative changes are made, the GMC can continue to challenge decisions.'

He welcomed a GMC commitment to greater transparency on how it decides whether to appeal MPTS rulings, but called for the regulator to be 'more proactive in their dealings with the government and call for the statutory power to be removed by a simple and swift legislative measure'.

GP concerns

Dr Hendry added: 'Without question, the GMC’s fitness to practise function is what causes our members the most concern. Proceedings can have career-altering implications for doctors, not to mention significant adverse effects on their health.'

The GMC has said it will continue to exercise its right to appeal fitness to practise decisions until the government changes the Medical Act, based on legal advice that it would be ‘unlawful’ to do otherwise.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said last year: 'The fact that the government has stated that it intends to legislate to remove it does not allow us to ignore our statutory duties.

‘We would be acting unlawfully if we did not give due consideration to the exercise of our powers to appeal a decision where the decision could reasonably be considered to be insufficient to protect the public.’

The Williams review was commissioned by former health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt after the GMC's decision to appeal an MPTS ruling on junior doctor Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba caused widespread concern among doctors. The tribunal recommended a 12-month suspension, but Dr Bawa-Garba was struck off after a GMC appeal in the High Court - before being reinstated after a successful appeal.

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