'Unlawful' for GMC to stop appealing fitness-to-practise decisions

It would be 'unlawful' for the GMC to stop appealing medical tribunal decisions until the government introduces the necessary legislation to strip the it of the power, the regulator has said.

In a letter to health and social care committee chair and former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, the GMC said it would not stop exercising its right to appeal against fitness-to-practise decisions, despite the fact the government has said the regulator should no longer be able to do so.

It follows independent legal advice by Sir Robert Francis QC confirming that the regulator cannot unilaterally stop appealing cases until changes have been made to the Medical Act.

In the letter, GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said that, following a review of the regulator’s referral processes, ‘it would not be lawful to impose a moratorium on our right of appeal'.

He went on to say: 'The fact that the government has stated that it intends to legislate to remove it does not allow us to ignore our statutory duties. We would be acting unlawfully if we did not give due consideration to the exercise of our powers to appeal a decision where the decision could reasonably be considered to be insufficient to protect the public.’

Legislative change

In response, the Medical Protection Society (MPS) called on government to publish a timeline for legislative change to remove the GMC’s right to appeal.

The decision to strip the GMC of its power of appeal followed the damaging, high-profile case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba who was struck off the medical register after the GMC appealed against her tribunal ruling. Dr Bawa-Garba has since been reinstated after judges found the original tribunal decision to be appropriate.

In the wake of the GMC's appeal,the then health secretary Jeremy Hunt commissioned a review into gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare, led by Professor Sir Norman Williams. Sir Norman recommended  that the GMC should lose its power to appeal fitness-to-practice decisions made by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS), which the government accepted.

However, the government has yet to pass legislation to remove the GMC's power of appeal, and the regulator has continued to use it - sparking fury from doctors who say its behaviour shows it is incapable of learning from its mistakes.

The GMC confirmed to GPonline in September that it was appealing four tribunal decisions, in each case asking the Court of Appeal to replace a MPTS decision with a more severe sanction.

Right to appeal

Dr Rob Hendry, MPS medical director said: ‘Since the MPTS was established, we have argued that the GMC should not have the power to appeal decisions by the tribunal service. This power is both detrimental to the interests of healthcare professionals and unnecessary – as the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) already has the authority to appeal decisions made by the MPTS and also by all other healthcare professional regulators.

‘It has been over six months since Sir Norman Williams’ review was published and nearly a year since the DHSC’s consultation on proposals for improving regulation. A clear timetable for change is needed.’

The GMC said it will ‘continue to evaluate’ these processes and confirmed it is working alongside DHSC on the proposed legislation to ultimately remove its right to appeal.

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