The GMC has made changes to the way it handles complaints.
One change, designed to speed up the handling of complaints that do not raise serious concerns about patient safety, has been the introduction of provisional enquiries (or PEs).
The GMC can only investigate concerns where the facts, if proven, would suggest impairment of the doctor's fitness to practise.
Many complaints can be closed immediately because they do not question fitness to practise – for example, a complaint from a patient who disagrees with a medical report or diagnosis, where it is clear the diagnosis or report is accurate. But sometimes it is not clear at the outset whether fitness to practise is in question, and before provisional enquiries were introduced, these cases all entered the full investigation process.
Provisional enquiries were introduced in 2014. They involve the GMC trying to identify at an early stage cases that should not progress to an FTP investigation. It considers them against a set of criteria designed to recognise cases that are unlikely to meet the GMC's threshold, even if the allegations were proven.
When cases meet these criteria they become provisional enquiries, and the GMC will make its enquiries within a short timescale.
The GMC aims to complete provisional enquiries within 63 days, compared with six months for a full investigation. In that time, the GMC needs to identify and assess relevant information – which may include asking additional questions or seeking a clinical view before deciding whether it understands the seriousness of the concerns. It can then make a decision on whether to close the case or send it through to the formal FTP investigation procedure.
Following a pilot scheme and success in identifying appropriate cases, the list of criteria for PE cases has been expanded and now includes, for example, cases where a doctor has made a one-off clinical mistake. If during provisional enquiry the GMC is satisfied that there is no concern about risk to patients and, where appropriate, a doctor has taken steps to avoid repetition of any mistake, a full GMC investigation is not usually needed.
In 2017 the GMC completed 583 provisional enquiries, 64.5% of which were closed with no action, saving 376 doctors the burden of a full investigation.
What do I need to do if I receive a GMC letter saying my case is being dealt with as a provisional enquiry?
- Call the MDU. We are here to provide advice and support. We will be happy to discuss your individual circumstances and concerns, and will ask you to send in the details so we can open a file for you.
- If the GMC letter enclosed a work details form, complete and return this to the GMC.
- If you work in an NHS trust you don't need to notify your employer of a GMC provisional enquiry. However, the different Performers List regulations require all UK GPs to notify the appropriate body in writing within seven days if they become subject to a regulator's investigation: NHS England in England, the Health Board in Scotland, the Local Health Board in Wales and the Board in Northern Ireland.
- Don't comment or respond to the GMC (except by returning the work details form) until you have contacted us and sought advice. There is no requirement to provide comments to the GMC.
What should I send to the MDU in a GMC provisional enquiry case?
- The GMC letter in its entirety (even though it may look like a generic letter).
- A copy of all the documents enclosed with the GMC letter.
- Your account of what happened in the case and any other documentation you have. You might, for example, have relevant clinical records or letters.
- Your reflections on the case. If it is a case you have written up for your portfolio or discussed at appraisal, it would be helpful for us to see it.
This page was correct at publication on 02/05/2018. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.