GMC plan to cut anxiety in probes into doctors

By Robin Stride

The GMC plans to make initial contact with a doctor by phone in future ‘to reduce anxiety for doctors’ if it needs to investigate a concern. 

It said the change followed positive feedback from medical defence organisations and was among improvements to take a more compassionate approach and reduce the impact of investigations.

A pilot carried out earlier this year found doctors felt more supported when initial phone calls were made, the regulator said.

An initial call is an introductory call that takes place before any concerns are disclosed to the doctor. 

The new process will be:

  • A pathfinder email is sent first. 
  • This is then followed up with a phone call, pre-arranged to take place at a time convenient for the doctor, and allows the staff member handling the case to establish direct communication with the doctor early in the investigation, to explain what is likely to happen. 
  • This will be immediately followed up by written correspondence – either email or letter, depending on the doctor’s preference.

Previously, the process was that a pathfinder email was sent, followed up by an email or letter. 

The GMC said: ‘To reduce anxiety for doctors, the person dealing with the investigation will first email the doctor to arrange a phone call then introduce themselves as the doctor’s contact, explain what the immediate next steps will be and signpost them to relevant support services. This will be immediately followed up by written correspondence.

‘A bespoke communication plan is created for the doctor during the call, factoring in their communication preferences and assessing whether they may be vulnerable.’

Compassionate approach

Prof Dame Carrie MacEwan

GMC chairwoman Prof Dame Carrie MacEwen said: ‘Reducing the impact of our investigations on doctors is of the utmost importance to us. The vast majority of GMC investigations conclude without action, but we know that the impact of receiving a complaint can be great for doctors. 

‘The personal and compassionate approach of having a contact who can explain the investigation process over the phone and be a port of call for any queries has been favoured by doctors and support organisations alike.’

The pilot involved 31 new provisional inquiries and investigations. Provisional inquiries are complaints that require additional information at triage to help inform a decision about whether the concern raised amounts to an investigation.

Dr Udvitha Nandasoma, MDU head of advisory services, commented: ‘GMC investigations are inevitably stressful for doctors involved and we welcome anything that might reduce the anxiety they cause.  

‘However, the most meaningful impact the GMC can have is by ensuring that an investigation only begins when absolutely necessary and is progressed quickly and efficiently. 

‘We also hope that the planned update to Good Medical Practice, which is the GMC’s core guidance, reflects the reality of practice. 

‘It is vital the GMC does not place unrealistic responsibilities on doctors for things that are simply not deliverable in the current challenging circumstances facing health professionals.’