Changes to the Medical Act, which took effect from 31 December 2015, mean that the GMC now has the power to appeal to the High Court against tribunal decisions it deems do ‘not adequately protect patients’.
Parliament approved the changes in March last year, in a move criticised as ‘unfair to doctors’ by legal advisers at the Medical Protection Society (MPS).
The new law also places the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) – which runs the hearings for doctors suspected of breaching GMC standards – on a statutory footing.
Prior to the changes, only the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) – the watchdog that oversees the UK's regulators – could consider appeal to court against MPTS decisions. In the last three years, it has challenged six MPTS rulings.
The GMC said the changes would make investigations and hearings ‘more proportionate, faster and more efficient’.
Changes to Medical Act
But medicolegal adviser Dr Pallavi Bradshaw told GPonline in March that the new powers could prolong what is already a stressful period for doctors.
‘The GMC is obviously going to be disappointed if it doesn’t get the decision it wants but that’s not what it's there for,' she said.
'MPTS panels are supposed to be independent. They are so closely linked with the GMC already that giving them the ability to appeal decisions I think is going to be unfair to doctors.'
Niall Dickson, GMC chief executive, said: ‘The new right of appeal and the establishment of the MPTS as a statutory body are huge strides in UK professional regulation.
‘This will help us to make sure doctors receive the support they require and patients receive high quality care.
‘We have been campaigning for the right to appeal MPTS panel decisions for some time and although we may not use the power often, the changes are essential for patients, professionals and healthcare systems across the UK.’
David Pearl, chairman of the MPTS, said: ‘These changes make it clear that the MPTS is an operationally separate tribunal, underlined by the GMC’s new right of appeal and the responsibility on the part of the MPTS to report directly to parliament each year.
‘Our ambition is to reduce the average length of MPTS hearings, to reduce the pressure on doctors and witnesses. With these changes, I’m confident we will be able to achieve that.’