GMC to lose power to appeal tribunals or demand reflective notes

The government will legislate to strip the GMC of its power to appeal medical tribunal decisions or to request doctors' reflective notes in fitness to practise cases, ministers have confirmed.

Health minister Stephen Hammond (Photo: UK Parliament)
Health minister Stephen Hammond (Photo: UK Parliament)

Responding to a consultation on reform of professional regulation, the government confirmed that it would draft legislation 'in due course' to follow through on recommendations set out last year in the Williams review.

The changes will remove the GMC power of appeal against medical tribunal decisions and its ability to request reflective notes in fitness to practise procedures - key concerns linked to widespread anger among doctors in the wake of the damaging Bawa-Garba case.

The government has also set out plans to give regulators including the GMC greater freedom to reform processes without the need for further legislation, and to speed up handling of fitness to practise cases.

Fitness to practise

In its response to a consultation on ‘Promoting professionalism; reforming regulation’, the UK government and devolved governments pledged to equip 'all regulatory bodies with a broadly consistent set of powers to manage fitness to practise cases effectively and efficiently'.

It said the changes would mean that 'fitness to practise concerns will be concluded quickly, proportionately and fairly, replacing the current bureaucratic, time-consuming processes that are burdensome and can be stressful for patients, their families, registrants and employers'.

The government response says: 'The most significant change will enable regulators to resolve fitness to practise cases without the need for a full panel hearing where it is appropriate to do so.'

Health minister Stephen Hammond said: 'We are delivering on our commitment to modernise professional regulation. These changes will allow regulators to dedicate more of their resources to supporting the professionals working in our NHS and contribute to safe, high quality patient care.

NHS long-term plan

'Our long-term plan sets out how we will make the NHS a sustainable, 21st century employer and having a dynamic, flexible and responsive system of professional regulation is an important part of that.'

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: 'We welcome this long-awaited report and its emphasis on greater flexibility and autonomy for regulators. As the health and social care system grapples with building a sustainable workforce, regulation must be agile enough to adapt and respond to changing future demands rather than confined by an approach determined only by today’s challenges.

'It has now been seven years since government first consulted on legislative reform. We look forward to a fully formed plan for taking those changes forward.'

MDU head of professional standards Dr Michael Devlin said plans to increase flexibility for the GMC to updated its processes was welcome. 'Fitness to practise processes need to be more responsive and proportionate. Currently it is stressful for most doctors and it has been clear for a long time the GMC needs the power to amend fitness to practise procedures in a more efficient way.'

The MDU warned that plans to strip the GMC of its power to appeal medical tribunal decisions was unlikely to provide 'significant relief' to doctors - because the Professional Standards Authority will retain powers of appeal.

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