Failing doctors ‘not held to account’

By Hannah Brenton

Doctors whose practices have concerned authorities are not being properly scrutinised, an influential committee of MPs has found.

The Commons health committee announced today that it would serve in a watchdog capacity over the General Medical Council (GMC) – the body which oversees standards of medicine in the UK.

MPs said they were forced to adopt the role because of the GMC’s unclear relationship to the Privy Council, which is supposed to supervise its role.

“In the absence of a mechanism which makes this accountability effective we intend to exercise this function ourselves on behalf of parliament,” MPs on the committee said.

The report into medical supervision is the result of a review of proposed changes to medical licensing, where doctors will have to renew their medical licence every five years.

This ‘revalidation’ process is set to be introduced late next year by the GMC.

The Committee found that the GMC has not done enough to address how to deal with doctors whose ability is called into question but it also voiced concerns that doctors could be unfairly stigmatised merely by having to go through the process.

“The committee is concerned that the instinctive use of the word ‘remediation’ in cases where a doctor’s performance gives cause for concern may have the effect of pre-judging the appropriate response to a particular set of circumstances,” the report found.

“While it is important to ensure that the rights and legitimate interests of doctors are safeguarded, the primary purpose of revalidation is to protect the interests of patients.”

The report suggests tougher guidance be issued so that there is no confusion about how to deal with underperforming doctors.

MPs concluded that the appraisal process should include the opinions of patients and colleagues as well as employers and demanded a GMC review of how best to gather these views.

The GMC hopes that revalidation will increase public confidence in the medical profession following a number of high-profile cases of medical incompetency in recent years, such as the failure to spot the abuse that led to the death of Baby P.