Law change urged to support doctors

By a staff reporter

The ‘shameful’ disadvantage ethnic minority doctors still experience could be tackled by cutting red tape and giving greater autonomy to the GMC, according to its chief executive. 

He said medical regulation reforms, currently being consulted on by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), would give the council freedom to address discrimination and inequality within healthcare ‘laid so shockingly bare during the pandemic’. 

The consultation, which runs until 16 June, proposes giving bodies like the GMC greater freedom over which cases to take forward, freeing up resources to drive improvements in culture, training and education.

Charlie Massey

Talking to health leaders at the Westminster Health Forum, Charlie Massey said: ‘The pandemic has showcased the deep pride we all hold in our health services. But it has exposed a shameful side too – that too many doctors from ethnic minorities continue to experience disadvantage. 

‘This ranges from educational attainment and career progression, to their likelihood of being referred to their regulator.’ 

Making long-awaited reforms would allow the GMC to focus on supporting and nurturing doctors, ‘rather than simply stepping in when things go wrong’. 

The GMC chief said existing legal rigidity meant the emphasis of the GMC’s activities was in the wrong place, and he compared the current system to ‘using a hammer to crack a nut’. 

‘We are required to fully assess every complaint we receive, even if it doesn’t raise serious fitness-to-practise concerns and won’t meet our legal thresholds. Reform will allow us to be much more focused in deciding which cases we investigate, and how we do it – ensuring fairer and faster outcomes.

‘It will also give us better options for concluding cases in a way that takes account of the needs of all parties. Defaulting to an advers­arial panel hearing can be deeply stressful. Not only for the doctor but also for the complainant, especially for those who don’t want to give evidence in public.’

He added: ‘What we need is a more proportionate approach, where the course of action is determined by the case at hand, not legislative diktat.’ 

In 1983, the GMC dealt with less than one complaint a day; today it is roughly 10,000 a year. 

But while medical practice has transformed over the years, the legislation governing the GMC is still stuck in the 1980s. Mr Massey said wholesale reform is needed. 

‘Tinkering round the edges won’t cut it. What is required now is . . . a new model of regulation to meet 21st century needs. Galvanised by the pandemic, the chance for meaningful change is finally on the table.’