Agency chief warns GMC will create a 'cloak of secrecy'

The move to hold hearings in private has nothing to with fairness to doctors, it is simply an attempt to throw a cloak of secrecy over doctors' misconduct.

One of the matters raised in the consultation paper is that public hearings are very stressful for doctors, witnesses and very costly.

They also specifically said that it's wrong that doctors can be subjected to critical media coverage in cases where the allegations against them are later found unproven.

If doctors agree to a particular sanction, why not avoid the whole thing? It is suggested that the GMC would maintain "transparency" by publishing the details of each case on their website.

I believe it is doubtful the GMC would supply a comparable level of detail to that provided in a public hearing and press coverage would diminish hugely as a result.

The website is an inadequate substitute for proper press coverage.

We note that among cases which will not proceed to a hearing are:

  • When a doctor admits guilt and agrees a sanction selected by the GMC
  • Where a doctor has been convicted of certain serious criminal offences (including murder, rape, sexual offences against children, blackmail).

In any event it now seems to be the fashion that more and more cases dealt with by the GMC and the nurses' regulator the NMC [Nurses and Midwifery Council] are held in private. The regulator usually cites the doctor or nurse's 'health' as a reason for holding the hearing in private.

It is worth noting that the NMC recently reviewed its position and cited the Data Protection Action as a reason for not giving the age or even the town of a nurse facing serious charges before the regulator.

The Health Professions Council (HPC) has blankly refused to tell reporters where an incident of alleged misconduct occurred and does not give ages or even counties for where the professional involved lives.

In some ways cases involving serious malpractice are already being kept away from the media spotlight.

I believe doctors' misbehaviour has become more serious and blatant over the years and the GMC sadly appears to think it will improve the reputation of the profession if less of these hearings appear in the press.

Protection of the public of course is being completely ignored. We recently covered a case where a doctor was found guilty of sexually motivated conduct against a patient and was practicing again within 12 weeks.

If this hearing was held in private the only mention of his case would be probably be one paragraph months later with all the detail sanitised out.

How could any newspaper publish a report based on what the GMC chooses to give them?

Don't patients have a right to know their doctor may be getting sexually turned on as he examines them?

Unfortunately it is just part of a wider move throughout society for press officers to control the news and reveal to the public only what they see fit.

I believe that if the proposals go ahead it will have a knock-on effect for the other health tribunals such as the NMC and the HPC and the way they conduct their business.

In the past reporters have been trusted to cover hearings with remedies already in place to punish shoddy or unfair journalism.

As the editor of Central News - the only London agency dedicated to covering the GMC on a daily basis - I have always insisted that GMC hearings are covered in the same way as a court case.

While the allegations against the doctors are reported, their defence and the final conclusion is also covered to ensure we are not criticised for bias or unfairness.

The proposed changes mark another sad day for the freedom of the press, and a disastrous day for the rights of patients, who already suffer so much at the hands of doctors in this country.

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