GMC proposes stricter sanctions for doctors who harm patients

Doctors who make serious clinical errors and harm patients could lose their right to practice even if they subsequently take steps to improve, the GMC has proposed.

Niall Dickson: GMC seeking tougher action against doctors who harm patients (Photo: Chris Renton)
Niall Dickson: GMC seeking tougher action against doctors who harm patients (Photo: Chris Renton)

If it can be shown that a doctor knew, or should have known, that they were causing serious harm to patients, new proposals could see them face restrictions on their right to practice, suspension or removal of their registration even if they later took measures to improve.

Niall Dickson, GMC chief executive, said the regulator had in the past been ‘prevented from taking action’ in some ‘serious cases’, because the doctors involved had subsequently improved their practice.

The new measures are designed to ensure the GMC can take ‘stronger action’ in these cases and that doctors ‘take steps to protect patients sooner’.

The GMC said the stricter sanctions would help ‘uphold public confidence in the medical profession’.

Doctors who refuse to apologise to patients they have harmed could also be subject to more serious measures under the proposals.

Doctor input needed

The proposals form part of a GMC consultation, which will run until Friday 14 November. It will assess how the regulator should deal with serious complaints against doctors.

The GMC has called for input from doctors and patients during the consultation, which will be published in 2015. Once finalised, the guidance will be used to help GMC case examiners decide when to refer a doctor under investigation to a hearing.

Mr Dickson said: ‘Doctors are among the most trusted professionals, and rightly so, and they deserve to be treated fairly. In the vast majority of cases one-off clinical errors do not merit any action by the GMC.

‘But if we are to maintain that trust, in the small number of serious cases where doctors fail to listen to concerns and take action sooner to protect patients, they should be held to account for their actions.’

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