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GMC increases flexibility to withdraw tribunal referrals

by Anna Colivicchi
6 November 2023

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The GMC has amended its guidance so that decision makers have ‘more flexibility’ to reconsider decisions to refer a case to a tribunal.

The regulator published an update today responding to recent reviews around its decision-making processes, including 23 recommendations which were published earlier this year, following the organisation’s apology for its mistakes in the case of Dr Manjula Arora.

Today, the GMC said that it has made changes to ‘achieve targets to tackle areas of inequality that exist for doctors’, which include amending guidance to reconsider decisions to refer a case to a tribunal if the GMC receives new information that means a tribunal isn’t necessary.

Some of the 23 recommendations are already being implemented and many have deadlines for completion this year.

GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: ‘We are a learning organisation and embedding fairness is at the heart of our work.

‘Success won’t be achieved overnight but we will continue to act on independent recommendations and work towards our equality, diversity and inclusion targets, with the support of other organisations, to see positive change.

‘We will also continue to call on the UK government to prioritise this work, so that we can achieve our aim of being a more effective, relevant and compassionate regulator in the years ahead.’

Medical Defence Union’s (MDU) director of medical services Dr Caroline Fryar said: ‘It is right that the GMC is taking the opportunity to reflect on the changes to its policies, guidance and processes in that time to try to learn from past mistakes.

‘At the MDU we witness first-hand the impact fitness to practise proceedings can have on doctors. Doctors should only be put through this process where it is necessary.

‘Today’s summary of the recent changes the GMC has made is positive news.

‘A fairer, more proportionate, more timely regulatory process: that’s what the MDU wants for doctors, and it is these standards that we measure any GMC reforms against. Only time will tell if the changes outlined will deliver this.

‘This update demonstrates that, in response to feedback, the GMC can make changes to its procedures and systems. However, we urgently need more ambitious, fundamental reform.

‘The government must introduce reforms to the GMC’s legislation without further delay. This was promised in 2022, and doctors are still waiting.’

In February, the GMC committed to increasing awareness of bias and improving equality, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) training as part of the review of its decision-making processes.

In November 2022, a separate independent review found that the accusations against Dr Manjula Arora around the ‘promise’ of a laptop should never have reached the GMC. 

The latest changes ‘to tackle areas of inequality’

Improvements detailed in the latest update include:

  • Amending guidance so that decision makers have more flexibility to reconsider decisions to refer a case to a tribunal if the GMC receives new information that means a tribunal isn’t necessary.
  • Developing a set of escalation principles to help enable a culture of professional curiosity across the GMC’s fitness to practise processes, where colleagues feel able to challenge decisions or raise concerns about a case at the earliest opportunity. The GMC’s aim is to encourage more empowered and engaged teams, who understand the collective responsibility to get to a fair outcome.
  • Making sure that when instructing counsel – the barristers who represent the GMC at tribunal hearings – about a case, they are specifically asked to provide an assessment of its overall merits and strengths before it proceeds further, and to raise concerns if they have any.
  • Updating the guidance that decision makers use in cases involving allegations of low-level violence and dishonesty. The GMC are proposing changes to support a more proportionate approach, so they will only take action where there is a clear risk to public protection. The updates will support decision makers when deciding whether to investigate, and, following an investigation, whether to refer the case to a tribunal.
  • Tailored equality, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) learning for all staff to make sure decisions are fair and unbiased. The GMC has also expanded learning for decision makers so they have a greater understanding of how culture may impact a doctor’s communication, attitudes, and behaviours – this is considered when investigating concerns.
  • Running audits in a more regular and consistent way across the organisation. And continuing to ask for more feedback on the GMC’s work from people who experience its processes.

Source: GMC

A version of this story first appeared on our sister publication Pulse.