Sick doctors to be judged differently

By Douglas Shepherd

Alarm bells are ringing over health department proposals for the GMC to investigate doctors with health concerns under ‘lack of competence’ grounds.

Defence bodies have strong concerns about the possible axing of ‘health’ as a separate category under which relevant fitness-to-practise concerns could be investigated.

Dr Rob Hendry, medical director at MPS, warned: ‘Removing “health” grounds and instead categorising doctors with a health concern under “lack of competence” grounds would be extremely demoralising and could exacerbate their health issue. 

‘It may also discourage doctors from seeking help at an earlier stage and this could endanger both patients and the doctor.’

A consultation proposes the GMC has just two grounds for investigating doctors – ‘lack of competence’ and ‘misconduct’.

Dr Rob Hendry

Dr Hendry said GMC inquiries brought many doctors considerable stress and anguish – as tragically demonstrated by the number of doctors who die by suicide each year while under investigation. 

He added: ‘More broadly, we are concerned that even for those who do not have health concerns, the term “lack of competence” is unnecessarily pejorative. 

‘There are variables which can affect a doctor’s performance in situations where competence may not be the primary concern – for example, systemic and organisational factors that are outside of the direct control of the clinician. We hope to see a more neutral phrase.’  

The MPS has urged the Gov­ernment to ensure it delivers on its 2018 commitment to strip the GMC of its power to appeal fitnes-to-practise decisions and give it greater discretion in deciding whether and how to investigate a fitness-to-practise concern.

It said this would avoid thousands of doctors going through unnecessary investigations.

Dr John Holden at the MDDUS said: ‘Health cases need to be dealt with more sensitively than other cases. 

‘This is of utmost importance with cases involving mental health problems. 

‘It is simply not appropriate for health to be placed into the same ground as competency.’