Government set to ‘break promise’ on GMC reform legislation this year

The BMA and MDU have complained to the health secretary, after learning that legal reform of medical fitness processes will be delayed ‘until at least 2024’.

Long-awaited legislation to allow reform of GMC processes was finally expected this year with the organizations saying “any further delay” would be “regarded by the profession as a broken promise”.

The planned reforms would allow faster resolution of fitness-to-practice investigations, as well as nullify GMC’s powers to appeal FTP decisions. It would also give GPs specialist status on the GMC registry.

While long-awaited legislation to bring physician associates (PAs) and anesthesia associates (AAs) into statutory regulation will be implemented next year, legislation for medical regulation reform will not be established at the same time.

The letter to Steve Barclay, also signed by the Royal College of Anesthetists and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, says doctors are “deeply concerned” about the pushback as “Currently, the GMC is operating under outdated legislation that it puts all parties at a disadvantage: the profession, the patients and the GMC itself’.

He said: ‘We urge the Government to keep its promise to patients and doctors, to reform the GMC without delay. We are all ready to work with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) over the coming months to ensure that the legislation can be published before the end of the year.’

MDU chief executive Dr Matthew Lee said: “The news that the government has shelved long-awaited GMC reforms until 2024/25 is disappointing, frustrating and surprising.”

“Doctors across the UK have waited a long time to see their regulator reformed. This was promised for this year and it is a promise that must be honored.

‘The fitness to practice process is one of the most stressful experiences a doctor can have in their career, and the current legislation cries out for change.

‘Physicians deserve a fitness to practice process that is modern, proportionate, timely and, above all, fair. Currently, the GMC is operating under outdated legislation that disadvantages the profession, patients and the GMC itself’.

BMA board chairman Professor Philip Banfield said: “For GPs, we have consistently argued that they should be legally recognized as specialists on the GMC register, and it is very frustrating and damaging to the NHS that they are being followed. denying their experience in this way.

“Most importantly, the government must not use this delay to further renege on its promise to remove GMC’s right to appeal the suitability court’s decisions, something it committed to in 2018, and once again We demand that this be done now.

“That the GMC still has this legal right, which it has repeatedly and unfairly deployed against doctors in the past, is a huge source of anxiety for doctors and only increases the fear and mistrust they have in their regulator.”

The government had previously told the GMC that the legislation would be put in place in the spring of this year.

Chief Executive Charlie Massey said: “Physician associates and anesthesia associates are an important part of the healthcare workforce and we welcome the progress in bringing them to regulation, which we will do within 12 months of the enactment of legislation by the government.

‘But we are disappointed that the outdated legislation for doctors is not being replaced at the same time. The current framework prevents us from being responsive and flexible in how we address patient safety concerns and register doctors to join the UK workforce. That’s not good for patients and puts unnecessary pressure on doctors.

‘The Government has said that it hopes to implement reforms for doctors as a priority following its work on medical associates and anesthesia associates. We now need a clearer commitment to the specific timing of that work and stand ready to move forward with better regulation for both physicians and PCPs as soon as DHSC enacts the necessary legislation.”

New data from last month revealed that GMC has launched a further 23 appeals against its court decisions since the government pledged to dismiss GMC’s appeals in June 2018.

The GMC also said last month that the findings against GP Dr. Manjula Arora should not be upheld and that the dishonesty test was “incorrectly” applied to her case, effectively overturning the ruling to suspend her for a month for “dishonesty” about a laptop.

Several groups have also criticized GMC’s proposed changes to its Good Medical Practice (GMP) guidance, saying they could “open the floodgates” to FTP investigations.

And a regulator report has shown that five doctors committed suicide while under investigation by GMC between 2018 and 2020.

What the GMC overhaul is expected to bring

On the faster resolution of FTP cases, the Government has said that this will be possible thanks to:

  • allow ‘more cases to be concluded sooner through accepted outcome decisions made by case examiners’, and;
  • ‘through a broader range of measures (including issuing a warning, applying conditions to a registrant’s practice, suspending its registration, or removing the registrant from the registry’).

Its consultation plans from 2021 also have approved plans to ‘remove the right of the General Medical Council to appeal the decision of the fitness to practice panel’ and ‘modify the power to require information in relation to fitness to practice cases to exclude expressly the reflective practice material’.

And he proposed that GMC should be able to suspend, rather than simply strike, doctors from the medical registry, for reasons including failure to pay fees or comply with revalidation requirements.

Under the plans, GMC’s board structure will be replaced by a board, which should hold public meetings. The regulator must also produce an annual report on its regulatory activities.

The GMC will have a duty to cooperate with other health regulators, as well as a duty to be ‘transparent’ in its decisions, including in cases of fitness to practice.

The same consultation had sought views on the introduction of statutory regulation of associated physicians, which would mean that PAs would have to have a GMC registration and would be subject to GMC fitness to practice procedures.

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