By a staff reporter
Tougher sentences are being urged for fake doctors in a bid to protect the public in the wake of the pandemic.
The Medical Defence Union (MDU) made the call because it is concerned by recent cases of members of the public posing as doctors and exploiting vulnerable patients with fake vaccines and other scams.
A Government review is currently looking at the way it regulates doctors, including penalties for those posing as medical professionals.
Section 49 the Medical Act makes it a criminal offence for someone not on the GMC’s medical register to falsely portray themselves as a registered member of the medical profession.
But the maximum sentence for someone found guilty is a fine, putting the offence on the same scale as a TV licence payment evasion.
The MDU wants the offence re-categorised so that it can either be tried summarily by magistrates or on indictment before judge and jury at the crown court.
Chief executive Dr Christine Tomkins said: ‘The Government is proposing that the current maximum penalty for the offence in the Medical Act should remain as a fine. We do not believe that is right.
‘A fine does not reflect the seriousness of the offence. We believe the courts should have all sentencing options open for offenders and that is what we have urged the Government to do.
‘This would put the offence on a par with other fraud offences; ensure the offence is prosecuted and treated with all the seriousness it merits and, crucially, allow the public to see a full and accurate picture of the number of prosecutions that take place.’
Between 2006 and 2017, 12 people were charged under the Medical Act 1983 with pretending to be registered as a doctor, Crown Prosecution Service figures show.
Three years ago, the GMC carried out a review of 3,000 doctors’ qualifications after a person who had dropped out of medical school practised as a psychiatrist for 23 years.
The MDU said it was difficult to get a true picture of how commonly this type of crime occurs. With penalties for the offence so low, it was possible that offenders had been prosecuted under different legislation such as the Fraud Act 2006, where prison sentences are available to the courts for serious offences.