GMC launches new tribunal service for GPs

All fitness-to-practise cases relating to GMC-registered doctors will be heard by the Medical Practitioners' Tribunal Service (MPTS) from today.

The MPTS will offer an impartial adjudication service and will play a key part in GMC’s fitness-to- practise reforms. It is the result of a commitment made by the GMC in 2011 to reform its fitness-to-practise procedures and create a modern and more efficient adjudication service.

Although part of the GMC, the Manchester based MPTS will be operationally separate from GMC complaint handling, investigation and case presentation.

The MPTS will be made up of panels and in the most serious cases these panels will be able to remove or suspend a doctor from the medical register or place restrictions on their practise.

A panel can also take early action by considering cases before a full fitness-to-practise hearing. At this time it may decide it is appropriate to place restrictions on a doctor’s practise immediately or suspend their practice while investigations proceed.

This provides an important safeguard should allegations against the doctor be considered to present a risk to the public, the GMC said.

Panel members will be appointed, trained, appraised and mentored along with legal assessors by MPTS chairman David Pearl – former president of the Care Standards Tribunal and commissioner of the Judicial Appointments Commission.

Mr Pearl said: ‘Establishing the MPTS assures those who come into our processes that we are independent of investigations into doctors’ fitness to practise, that the appointment of panellists for hearings is separate and that all decisions are made completely impartially.

‘One of my earliest priorities is to make improvements to the way that panellists are trained and performance managed through regular appraisal and quality assurance, which will bolster the quality of decision making.’

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: ‘The launch of the MPTS is the biggest change to doctors’ fitness-to-practise hearings for more than 150 years.

‘It represents a key part of our reforms and delivers a clear separation between investigations and the decisions made about a doctor’s fitness to practise.’

Changes welcomed
Responding to the announcement, Bill McMillan, head of medical pay and workforce at NHS Employers, said: ‘This is a much improved system that NHS employers will strongly welcome, and which should reassure patients that concerns about doctors will be handled robustly.

‘Safeguards will be as strong as ever but this new process aims to resolve cases more quickly, while evidence is fresh and participants still have a good recall of events. It is a significant step away from the cumbersome processes that could result in doctors being suspended for several years awaiting hearings and decisions.’

The GMC’s planned reforms for fitness-to-practice procedures include: the introduction of digital recording of hearings; enabling panel chairs to be involved in pre-hearing case management; the introduction of a power to make costs orders in cases where either the registrant or the GMC has been unreasonable in the conduct of proceedings and the introduction of legally qualified chairs.

The GMC is seeking parliamentary approval for the right to appeal where it does not agree with the decision of a particular panel, which is expected to be effective in 2013.

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