GMC pushes ahead with secret doctors' courts plan

The General Medical Council looks set to press ahead with plans to hold some misconduct hearings behind closed doors.

Earlier this year the GMC launched a consultation on its plans for a fundamental reform of its fitness to practice procedures and it published the results last week.

Under new proposals, hearings in which there is no dispute over the facts of the case would be settled behind closed doors between doctors and the GMC.

This was opposed by both the Newspaper Society and the Society of Editors.

The GMC claimed many of the public hearings are unnecessary and that they ‘create significant stress for the doctors, complainants and witnesses involved.”

The GMC received 217 written responses on the consultation paper and found ‘many respondents felt that there was a public interest in referring some cases to a hearing even where a doctor accepted our proposed sanction”, but added that ‘the situations in which respondents felt this may be appropriate varied widely with no consensus emerging”.

The report went on: ‘In light of this, we remain of the view that there are no legitimate public interest criteria for a referral to a public hearing where a doctor is prepared to accept the facts and proposed sanction.

‘Some respondents suggested we should retain a broad discretion to refer cases to a panel. While this is an attractive option, the exercise of that discretion is a decision that would be judicially reviewable and we believe would create significant operational difficulties.”

Under the plans, the outcome of cases where there was no public hearing would be published on the GMC’s website, but during a consultation there was no agreement on what the meeting summary should contain.

There was said to be broad support for not publishing unproven allegations but that it should publish ‘a factual summary of the case and mitigating or aggravating factors taken into account in the decision on sanction”.

The GMC now proposes to do some ‘further design work’on the exact content of the summary and to continue discussions with interested parties.

The report added: ‘It is clear from responses from the media that we will continue to need to have effective and quick ways of communicating the outcome of cases.

‘The media play an important role in the communication and scrutiny of decisions and thereby contribute to public confidence in the effectiveness of regulation. We propose to work on developing systems to communicate decisions proactively to the media, engaging with journalists as we develop our proposals.”

Any changes would be introduced in 2014 at the earliest.

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