Hearings more likely to trigger action against doctors as reforms improve accuracy

Doctors who face a hearing after a GMC investigation are more likely to face suspension or erasure than at any point over the past decade, after reforms that aimed to stop clinicians going through the process unnecessarily.

Almost three quarters of doctors (71%) who faced a hearing after a GMC investigation in 2016 were suspended or erased from the register.

The proportion is the highest observed over the last 10 years and suggests that fewer doctors are undergoing the stressful process unnecessarily. GPC leaders said doctors facing complaints should feel reassured. 

The latest data show a rise compared with 2015, in which 69% of hearings resulted in action taken against the doctor – and continues a trend up from 54% in 2012.

GMC data show that the number of investigations on doctors has halved since a peak of almost 3,000 in 2013 to just over 1,400 in 2016.

GP regulation

Over the same period, the number of hearings fell fractionally from 232 to 229. The changes have increased sharply the proportion of doctors undergoing a hearing after being investigated, from 8% to 16%.

GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘Any referral to the GMC can be very stressful for the doctors involved.

'Doctors in this situation need to know as soon as possible that the likelihood of investigation is less than previously and that the changes made to processes are reducing unnecessary hearings. This might provide some reassurance in very anxiety provoking situations.’

A GMC spokesman told GPonline it had taken a number of actions to ensure ‘we only investigate or refer to a hearing where that is really necessary’.

GMC investigation

These include making greater use of provisional enquiries ahead of full investigations and working closely with responsible officers to ensure cases can be dealt with locally where appropriate.

It is also piloting an approach of being ‘more discerning’ in cases where doctors have made one-off mistakes, which should lead to fewer investigations being launched.

‘We are also routinely inviting more doctors to meet with us at the end of an investigation to obtain more information before deciding whether a hearing is necessary,’ he added.

‘Although we need to understand better the drivers behind the changes in investigation volumes, we do feel that these changes have been significant in driving investigation numbers down over recent years.

‘But we remain of the view that legislative change could give us more freedom to decide which cases to investigate, and to speed up the process for concluding investigations especially where cases could and should be closed more quickly.’

The GMC has long called for the current ‘outdated and not fit for purpose’ system of regulating doctors to be updated through the introduction of new legislation.

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