GMC reforms may lead to investigation of historic complaints, warns MDU

Long awaited reform of healthcare regulation could lead to the GMC investigating more cases against doctors dating back beyond five years.

Responding to the government consultation on regulating professionals and protecting the public, the MDU said that while there is much to applaud in the proposals aimed at modernising and streamlining fitness to practise procedures, it is concerned about proposals to remove policies on investigating allegations that are more than five years old.

Under the current five-year rule, the GMC cannot investigate allegations if they happened more than five years ago "unless the Registrar considers that it is in the public interest for it to proceed." In its response to the consultation the MDU voiced concerns about changes to legislation that would force the GMC to scrap this rule.

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

"The welcome intention behind these proposals is to give the GMC greater flexibility, particularly in the management of fitness to practise procedures. It would be ironic if plans to abandon the five-year rule for investigating cases went ahead because this is an area where the GMC has been able to exercise its limited flexibility to date.

"The GMC can currently investigate a concern or complaint that is older than five years if there is a public interest in doing so. There is detailed guidance for decision makers on how this is applied. This ensures the fitness to practise process is focused on whether a doctor's practice is currently impaired and whether conditions are required on their registration to protect patients.

"Without the five-year rule, there is a risk that doctors will be routinely and needlessly subjected to fitness to practise proceedings for historic complaints where there is no question of current impairment or risk to patients."

The MDU has previously raised concerns about proposals to drop health as a category for fitness to practise concerns.

This page was correct at publication on 17/06/2021. 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.