GMC demands more freedom to pare down formal investigations

'Clunky and outdated' legislation is holding the GMC back from paring down unnecessary formal investigations against doctors to the extent it would like to, its chief executive has said.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey
GMC chief executive Charlie Massey

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey has reiterated calls for a change in legislation to allow the regulator to take a 'more flexible' approach to investigating complaints.

In a blog post published on the GMC's website, he said one of his key priorities at the helm of the regulator was to ‘lighten’ investigations – but warned that the government must overhaul the Medical Act first to allow this to happen.

The Medical Act was established in 1858, and has since been amended 19 times over the ensuing 159 years. But Mr Massey warned it was ‘absurd’ just how ‘clunky and outdated’ aspects of the legislation remain today.

The regulator has long decried the fact it is constrained by strict, older laws which it says hinders its ability to make improvements and adapt to modern requirements.

Law change

Overhauling the Medical Act would allow it to make regulation ‘lighter and more agile in the 21st century’, Mr Massey claimed – and grant it powers to stop investigations midway if early indications suggest the case is not serious.

But alterations to the Medical Act have been controversial before. The last time it was amended in 2015, it was changed to allow the GMC to appeal decisions it considers do not adequately protect patients.

Current legislation forces the GMC to formally investigate any allegation of impaired fitness to practise along a set of specific steps, Mr Massey said, which works against cases at either end of the spectrum.

In cases where there are no complications, the GMC is required to take a minimum of six months to ‘wade through’ a set of steps that may not be necessary for the case at hand – piling stress onto affected doctors.

GMC investigations

Alternatively, it must still commit to this process and carry out a tribunal hearing if the doctor involved has been convicted of crimes through criminal proceedings and ‘clearly should not be on the register’.

He called on the UK government to bring forward concrete plans to reform legislation ‘as soon as possible’.

The government committed in 2015 to launch a public consultation on how to make investigations more proportionate and improve the protection of the public from risk of harm from poor professional practice.

The government intends to run this consultation ‘shortly’, it told GPonline. A DH spokeswoman said: ‘The government is currently considering options on how to progress the reform of professional regulation.’

Mr Massey said: ‘We can and will do as much of that as we can without legislation, but the step-change we want to achieve can’t happen unless government makes good on its promise to overhaul the Medical Act.’

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