GPs face tougher sanctions if they fail to apologise for mistakes

Doctors who make mistakes will not be forced to apologise to patients they have harmed, but could face harsher sanctions if they fail to do so, the GMC has said.

Niall Dickson: GMC guidance strengthened
Niall Dickson: GMC guidance strengthened

Consultation has now closed on the GMC's indicative sanctions guidance that will help direct fitness to practise panels of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) when dealing with complaints against doctors. The finalised guidance will be published this summer.

Among proposals consulted on by the regulator was a plan to grant fitness to practise panels the power to force apologies from doctors who may have harmed patients.

But 53% of respondents to the consultation – including more than 2,000 doctors, patients and health professionals – opposed this measure, and the GMC has confirmed it will now be dropped.

Doctors who refuse to apologise could face stricter sanctions, however, as the GMC warned that panels will ‘take account of whether or not an apology has been made, the nature of the apology and when it was made’ during tribunals.

The BMA has previously rallied against the proposals, warning that doctors should not be made to apologise if a patient suffered as a result of something they believed was not their fault.

Doctors' reputation

Doctors thought to pose a risk to patients or the ‘reputation of the profession’ will soon face stricter sanctions, after the GMC’s proposals received ‘strong support’ from respondents during its consultation phase.

Over three quarters of respondents (78%) called for ‘more serious action’ to be taken in cases involving bullying, sexual harassment and physical violence to colleagues.

‘Predatory’ doctors who abuse their position to take advantage of patients will soon face harsher sanctions. Proposals for the GMC to clamp down on this and urge panels to remove them from the medical register received ‘overwhelming’ support.

Forced apologies

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said the GMC ‘recognised that forced apologies might not be regarded as genuine’.

He added: ‘In this consultation we asked whether failing to apologise should affect the sanction a doctor faces, and there was strong support for this to be included in new guidance. Until now this has not been highlighted as one of the factors which are likely to affect sanctions – that is now likely to change.

‘The end result is likely to be guidance on sanctions that for the first time does recognise the importance of apology.’

David Pearl, chairman of the MPTS, added: ‘MPTS panels are on the frontline when it comes to ensuring patient safety, as it is the decisions that they take that determine whether a doctor is fit to practise.

‘The important powers that they have can restrict or remove a doctor’s registration if they find it is necessary in order to protect the public.’

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