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19 health leaders urge Government to expedite GMC appeals law

by Eliza Parr
16 June 2023

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A group of 19 health organisations has called on the Government to strip the GMC of its right to appeal Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) decisions before the end of this parliament.

In a letter to the health secretary Steve Barclay, they urge the Government to deliver on its 2018 commitment to remove the GMC’s power to appeal fitness to practise (FTP) decisions in order ‘to address the mistrust’ of the regulator.

The group, coordinated by the Medical Protection Protection Society (MPS), included the BMA, the RCGP, the Doctors’ Association UK, and the British International Doctors Association (BIDA) among others.

Since this commitment in 2018, the GMC has challenged 24 MPTS decisions, according to information obtained via a freedom of information request by the MPS.

Legislation to remove this power from the GMC is still not in place, despite it being five years since the Government accepted in full the recommendations of the Williams review into gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare, following the case of Dr Bawa-Garba

In July last year, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) made a commitment to progress the necessary legislation in 2023, confirming that the order removing the GMC’s right of appeal would be laid in the second half of 2023.

DHSC said this would be done alongside legislation bringing physician associates (PAs) and anaesthesia associates (AAs) into statutory regulation. 

However, while DHSC has consulted on the PA and AA legislation and stated its intention to use this as a ‘template’ for regulation of doctors, the timeline for removal of the GMC’s right of appeal is not yet clear.

This new letter from healthcare leaders to the health secretary calls for section 40A of the Medical Act 1983 to be removed before the end of this parliament’s term. 

The MPS said the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) has a ‘near identical right of appeal to MPTS decisions,’ which means ‘public protection would be maintained’ after the legislative change is made.

President at the MPS Professor Dame Jane Dacre said: ‘The delay is disappointing and frustrating and doctors will have this hanging over their heads until the relevant changes are made to the Medical Act. 

‘The GMC’s power to appeal has generated distrust between the medical profession and the regulator and has contributed to a culture of fear. 

‘Fitness to practise proceedings are stressful and lengthy enough for those involved, without the additional worry that the GMC can seek to override the decision made by the MPTS if it does not agree. This is and has long been the PSA’s job.’ 

She also said: ‘The added concern now is that when PAs and AAs are brought into statutory regulation, the GMC will not be able to appeal panel decisions relating to their fitness to practise, but they may still be able to challenge decisions on doctors’ cases – parity is key.’

A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘The government remains committed to the implementation of the Williams Review recommendations through its programme of regulatory reform that will be rolled out to all regulated healthcare professionals.

‘We aim to lay legislation by the end of 2023 that will bring Physician Associates (PA) and Anaesthesia Associates (AA) into regulation, and we launched a consultation earlier this year on the draft legislation.

‘The government has also committed to reforming regulatory legislation for doctors as a top priority after the legislation for the regulation of PAs and AAs is laid.’

Meanwhile, a GMC spokesperson said: ‘We have made it clear that we are not opposed to the decision of removing our right of appeal. The Government will now decide how and when to bring in these changes.

‘The fact that the government has stated it intends to legislate to remove it does not allow us to ignore our statutory duties.

‘We would be acting unlawfully if we did not give due consideration to the exercise of our powers to appeal a decision where the decision could reasonably be considered insufficient to protect the public.’ 

Last month, Management in Practice reported that just over 40% of GPs being investigated by the GMC reported suicidal thoughts, and nearly half considered quitting medicine as a result of the process. 

The letter to the Health Secretary calling for section 40A of the Medical Act 1983 to be removed before the end of this parliament, was signed by Medical Protection Society, British Medical Association, The Doctors’ Association UK, Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Physicians, Royal College of Emergency Medicine, British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, Association of Anaesthetists, Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association, Royal College of Anaesthetists, Medical Women’s Federation, Royal College of Surgeons of England, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, British International Doctors Association, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Glasgow, Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh and Royal College of Pathologists.

A version of this story first appeared in our sister publication Pulse