Free up healthcare regulators to do their job better, MDU urges

The GMC and other regulators of healthcare professionals need to be given greater flexibility so they can become more efficient and responsive to the changing regulatory environment, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) said today.

Responding to the Department of Health consultation on Promoting professionalism, reforming regulation, the MDU said regulatory reform has been talked about for far too long and that action was needed now to reduce the time, stress and cost of regulatory procedures.

Dr Catherine Wills, MDU deputy head of advisory services said:

'The Department of Health's consultation on reforming regulation provides a great opportunity to modernise the system of regulating healthcare professionals. We have responded on our members' behalf to point out that regulators such as the GMC urgently need to be freed from outdated legal structures that impede reform and modernisation. This would allow the GMC to continue to make the changes needed to introduce a more proportionate system of regulation.

'While the regulators can't influence the number of complaints they receive, they know they can do a lot to investigate cases more swiftly and fairly. For example, the MDU believes it is in members' interests for the GMC to be given powers to reduce the number of unnecessary, stressful and costly fitness to practice hearings. It should also be able to reform and improve its application process for specialists and general practitioners so that it is faster, less bureaucratic and cheaper.'

The MDU said figures from the GMC's State of Medical Education and Practice for 2017 showed there are still too many doctors undergoing unnecessary and inevitably stressful formal fitness to practise investigations. Looking at GPs as an example, 17% of GPs on the GMC's register received complaints to the GMC between 2012-16, 5.3% were investigated, and only 0.7% received a sanction and warning.

Dr Wills continued: 'These figures show that, even though the GMC has made changes to the triage and early investigation process, with fewer cases now going forward to full investigation, there is still room for improvement.

'There should be safeguards to ensure regulators use any new powers appropriately and that registrants are treated in a fair and transparent manner, but it is possible to achieve this by incorporating such requirements into the new legal structure.'

On the question of whether the healthcare regulators should be merged, the MDU said there was definitely scope for closer working relationships between the regulators to achieve efficiency and cost savings but further analysis was needed before any major structural changes were made.

This guidance was correct at publication 17/01/2018. It 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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