UK healthcare leaders unite in call for GMC to be finally stripped of power to appeal fitness to practice decisions

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06 Apr 2021

Dear Secretary of State

We are writing to you as a coalition of leading healthcare organisations to urge you to use the opportunity of forthcoming legislation to deliver on the government’s commitment to remove the General Medical Council’s (GMC) power to appeal decisions made by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS).

As you know, in 2018 the government accepted in full the recommendations of the Williams review into gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare, following the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba. They included the central recommendation that ‘the General Medical Council should have its right to appeal fitness to practise decisions by its Medical Practitioner Tribunal Service removed.

The independent review concluded that, following the case of Dr Bawa-Garba, removing the GMC’s right of appeal against MPTS decisions would ‘help address the mistrust of the GMC amongst doctors and contribute to cultivating a culture of openness that is central to delivering improved patient safety’. It also concluded that public protection would still be maintained, with the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) still retaining its near identical right of appeal to MPTS decisions. We were pleased to see the recent white paper confirm that the Government plans to consult further on its broader reform proposals with the aim that these be delivered through secondary legislation. The forthcoming Health and Social Care Bill seems an excellent opportunity to amend the Medical Act 1983 by removing section 40A. We urge you to include such provisions in the Health and Care Bill and bring forward a timetable for reform.

We believe this will sit well alongside other proposed reforms to professional regulation. We hope you will agree this is both possible and appropriate and look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely 

Professor Dame Jane Dacre, President at the Medical Protection Society who coordinated the letter, commented: 

The strength of feeling on this issue from right across the healthcare community is clear to see. The GMC’s power to appeal decisions made by the MPTS has led to fear across the medical profession and a lack of confidence in the GMC. It is also unnecessary as the PSA has the authority to appeal decisions. The GMC is the only UK health regulator that has such a right of appeal. 

The Government agreed that the GMC should be stripped of the power in June 2018, following the Professor Sir Norman Williams review into Gross Negligence Manslaughter in healthcare. However, until the relevant legislative changes are made to the Medical Act, the GMC can and do continue to challenge decisions.

The Government’s recommitment to removing the GMC’s right to appeal within the recent consultation on broader professional regulation reforms is welcome. It is however almost three years since it committed to making this change, and it should not be held up while a wide range of other complex proposals go through a round of further consultation.

Implementing this change as part of the forthcoming Health and Social Care Bill would give the profession confidence that their concerns and the recommendations of the Williams review are now being acted on.

There has never been a more important time to address this shortcoming.  Covid-19 has sparked discussion about the extent to which individuals should be held to account when working in pressurised and extreme circumstances, and now more than ever, the regulator needs to be able to operate in a way that instils confidence amongst patients and doctors.

View the full letter here.

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