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The GMC uses its website and other material to inform doctors of the way it uses information, but from our conversations with members and representative organisations, we believe many doctors do not know that it may hold information about them.
The GMC closes less serious cases after initial assessment, but holds information about the doctors concerned indefinitely. The doctors involved will not usually be notified that there has been a complaint.
The complaints in question are those which the GMC decides do not raise a concern about fitness to practise. The GMC does write to the doctors involved if it decides not to investigate allegations relating to something that took place more than five years ago. It must have the complainant's consent to do so.
However, it does not tell doctors about the other cases it closes after initial assessment. Looking at the GMC's figures for 2012 alone, this would include many of the 6,240 cases that were closed at this stage.
Under current arrangements, details of these complaints are kept on file indefinitely. The GMC consulted last year on changes to its policies about how long it keeps information. Under those proposals, in future this information will be kept for four years, at which time the original record will be destroyed but the GMC will keep a summary record indefinitely.
The summary record will contain the complainant's name, the doctor's name, the date of the complaint, a brief description of the issue and the reason for closure. The GMC says its purpose for keeping this information is to enable it to respond to future enquiries about whether it had received specific complaints. The GMC would not normally disclose information about cases closed after initial assessment but says there may be circumstances where it would consider it appropriate, for example, in response to a public enquiry about subsequent serious concerns.
We have raised concerns with the GMC about the practice of retaining a summary record. As the complaints have not been investigated, the GMC has no way of knowing whether the allegations in the summary record are accurate. The doctor is unaware of the complaint and has not been given an opportunity to comment on the factual accuracy of the information held, or any other aspect of it.
In support of this policy, the GMC has said it is satisfied it is not breaching the data protection requirements in respect of doctors whose information it is processing in this way. Under the Data Protection Act 1998 doctors can request access to any information the GMC holds about them, including a summary record, if one exists. The GMC would also have to disclose such a complaint if it wished to use it because it was considered material to a further investigation about the same doctor. The GMC consulted on both aspects of this policy during 2012 and the majority of respondents supported it.
For the MDU's part, we can see that seeking consent from around 6,000 complainants and then writing to around 6,000 doctors in circumstances where the complaint is not being pursued would have considerable financial and administrative implications. The GMC needs to consider the potential impact on registration fees, and the effect on individual doctors of knowing that a complaint has been made.
However, we cannot support the practice of making a summary record after four years and keeping the information indefinitely. We believe the information should be destroyed at that stage. We are bringing this to members' attention because the information retained might be about you, and we want to make sure you know what is happening.
Dr Michael Devlin
Head of advisory services
This page was correct at publication on . 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.
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