Plans to reform GMC procedures could unfairly impact doctors in poor health, warns MDU

Proposals to remove health as grounds for a fitness to practise investigation are concerning.

Proposals to reform the way regulators such as the GMC address concerns about doctors with health problems could penalise the most vulnerable doctors, the Medical Defence Union (MDU) has warned.

Speaking at a Westminster Health Forum conference today on the future of healthcare regulation reform, the UK's leading medical defence organisation said it was worried about proposals to remove health as grounds for a fitness to practise investigation. Under plans announced in the Department of Health and Social Care's consultation on regulating professionals and protecting the public, health concerns will instead be dealt with under the umbrella of lack of competence (pages 62-63). The only other ground for action on a registrant's fitness to practise would be misconduct.

Dr Matthew Lee, professional services director, said:

"These are long-awaited reforms which are aimed at making regulation fairer and swifter for those involved. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and with the growing evidence about the health impacts on the profession, we must make sure the changes also lead to a more compassionate system for those being investigated.

"We understand and support the government's motives for proposing that health concerns should usually be dealt with outside the fitness to practise process. It is suggested this will lead to a fairer and more proportionate system, limiting fitness to practise investigations only to concerns that meet the appropriate threshold.

"However, there will be some cases where progression to a more formal process is deemed necessary and removing the health route under which such concerns are currently dealt with will be a retrograde step. It risks undoing the many advances that have been made by the GMC in establishing sensitive and separate procedures for dealing with doctors in poor health.

"We welcome the proposed move towards a less adversarial and more responsive system of regulation. The pandemic has helped bring many of these changes to the fore. For example, the use of virtual hearings in appropriate cases can help enormously to relieve the stress for those taking part. It is essential that reforms to healthcare regulation leave the GMC well equipped to deal with concerns about doctors' health and other fitness to practise concerns."

The MDU is planning to respond to the consultation on proposals to reform the regulation of healthcare professionals, which closes on 16 June 2021.

This page was correct at publication on 11/05/2021. 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.