If that fateful GMC missive appears

Keep It Legal.

What should you do if you get a letter from the GMC? Dr Tania Francis shares ten tips.

1Open that ominous letter.

We see cases where doctors have ignored correspondence from the GMC, and it is not a good idea. It might not be bad news; it might be something really simple, such as a reminder about paying your annual registration fee (ARF).

2 Put your ARF onto direct debit, especially if you are moving around a lot. 

If your reminder does not get to you, for whatever reason, you may be removed from the register for non-payment, which may lead to you working as a doctor without being registered, which is illegal.

3Keep your contact details up to date with the GMC. 

It may seem counterintuitive, but you are required to do so and if the GMC cannot get hold of you and this delays you receiving any correspondence from it, then that will only make things worse. 

If you are moving around a lot, give them your email address so that they can contact you easily if you forget to update your address.

4The letter might be about something less simple than paying your registration fee – revalidation, for example. 

You need to keep on top of your revalidation submission date and keep up to date with your annual appraisals. 

You can lose your licence to practise for failure to revalidate. 

You may have strong views about the revalidation system – but so does the GMC.

5The letter might be about a complaint. 

If so, the first letter you will receive is usually at a very early stage and will simply notify you of the complaint and the fact that the GMC is investigating it. 

Please resist the temptation to:

A) Ignore it and hope it will go away; 

B) Write to the GMC in great detail explaining why the complaint has no merit. 

Instead, pick up the phone to your defence organisation/indemnifier/insurer, tell them about it and ask for their advice. 

It may be a condition of your cover to notify them and, in any event, they will be able to advise you about whether you should respond. 

In the vast majority of cases, you will be advised not to respond, unless the answer to the complaint is extremely straightforward – for instance, the complaint is not about you and you have never met the patient. 

It is usually better to wait and let the GMC undertake its initial investigation. It may decide to take it no further, and by writing to it at this stage, you may actually make things worse for yourself. 

Believe me – we see it all the time. You won’t have the perspective to realise this because it is about you.

6Make sure your indemnity/insurance covers GMC complaints and keep up to date with your renewal premiums. 

Put them on direct debit too!

There is only one thing worse than facing a GMC complaint, and that is having to do it without any help or having to pay privately for legal advice.  

7Discuss any complaints – GMC or otherwise – in your annual appraisal and with any mentor you may have access to. 

Be willing to consider that things may have gone wrong or at least sub-optimally. Even if the complaint comes to nothing, you can still learn from it. 

If you can identify any areas of potential weakness, put together a plan to address these, stick to it and review it regularly. Keep records of what you have done, and of any meetings with a mentor or equivalent.

8If you get a letter from the GMC informing you that you have been referred to an Interim Orders Tribunal (IOT), act quickly. 

These hearings are listed at short notice and it is very difficult indeed to get them postponed, so you will need to get advice and representation for the date of that hearing. 

The IOT has the power to suspend you or place conditions on your registration pending the outcome of an investigation, so again – do not ignore it. 

Once it has made an order, it is difficult and time-consuming to get it lifted or eased. 

9Remember that GMC complaints are not that common, so do not live in fear. 

In 2020, there were 337,717 doctors on the register and the GMC considered 8,468 fitness-to-practise inquiries. 

Of these, 1,117 were promoted to investigation. 

In over half of these cases, the case was concluded with no adverse outcome, and only 276 cases went to a hearing. [Source: GMC Fitness-to-practise statistics 2020.

10Look after yourself. 

A GMC complaint is horribly distressing to deal with. It will knock your confidence, personally and clinically. 

Discuss it with others, seek support, both professionally and personally. See your GP. Tell your partner about it. You would be surprised how many people do not. 

You can also get support from the BMA’s doctor support service, aimed specifically at doctors going through GMC fitness-to-practise procedures. You do not have to be a BMA member. Email: doctorsupportservice@bma.org.uk.

Tania Francis (right) is a solicitor and a partner at Hempsons, a specialist healthcare law firm. She is also a qualified doctor. She advises doctors, dentists and other healthcare practitioners and providers, specialising in regulatory law and clinical negligence litigation, including cases where there are related criminal proceedings