Doctors’ defence bodies have welcomed new guidance from the GMC which should help many private consultants and GPs caught up in a surge of regulatory investigations since the council restarted its processes in July.
Some cases relate to issues around the pandemic and the MDU says it welcomes publication of guidance for the GMC’s decision-makers on how these complaints will be assessed.
Dr Caroline Fryar
Dr Caroline Fryar, its head of advisory services, said: ‘We are pleased to see the publication of today’s guidance for decision-making staff, as it is vital that the GMC only opens full investigations where absolutely necessary.
‘When assessing a doctor’s fitness to practise during the pandemic, the GMC will take into account issues such as staff working in unfamiliar settings, availability of PPE and the difficulties caused by wearing it, the disproportionate impact of the disease on doctors from black and minority ethic backgrounds, and the challenges of working with changing and sometimes conflicting guidance.
‘The publication of the guidance is well timed, because, since the GMC restarted its investigations in July, we have seen an influx of cases. Almost 25% of GMC cases this year to date have come to us in the last month. We are busy supporting these doctors and hope they and their colleagues will be reassured by today’s announcement.’
She said while the GMC’s recognition of the impact of the pandemic was reassuring, some of the complaints facing members also had the potential to become clinical negligence claims, which is why it was vital that the Government acted to ensure all NHS healthcare professionals are exempt from Covid-19 related litigation, and the additional distress and anxiety it inevitably causes.
Dr Rob Hendry
At the MPS, medical director Dr Rob Hendry said: ‘We have continually urged the GMC to acknowledge the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic and issue a statement of reassurance that it will show restraint and only open an investigation where there is a serious concern about a doctor’s fitness to practise.
‘This GMC staff guidance setting out how to take the Covid-19 context into account when considering complaints, will be welcomed by doctors, many of whom have had the stress of the pandemic compounded by the prospect of a regulatory investigation.
‘The guidance must, however, stand the test of time. It could be some time – potentially years – before such investigations are handled and we remain concerned that by this point memories of this difficult time may have faded.’
The MDDUS ‘warmly welcomed’ the GMC’s move.
It said the measure would ensure that the processes to tackle any complaints and claims made against frontline clinicians would reflect the unique and exceptional circumstances they had been working in.
Chief executive Chris Kenny said: ‘Now we need the Government to step forward and ensure similar principles are applied in Covid-19-related criminal proceedings against doctors, and by other regulators and NHS employers.’
Dr John Holden, head of its medical division, said the new guidance was an important step toward ensuring complaints made against doctors were dealt with fairly ‘even when the collective memory of the height of the pandemic is forgotten’.