New legislation will allow healthcare professional regulators such as the General Medical Council (GMC) to resolve fitness-to-practise (FTP) cases more quickly.
The Government has today announced it will bring in changes to the law to modernise FTP processes so that professional regulators, including the GMC, can use their resources to ‘better support’ their members.
This comes as the GMC revealed earlier this year its intention to spend the ‘bulk of its resources’ on supporting doctors by reducing the number of investigations it undertakes.
The legislative reforms will also see the GMC lose its right to appeal FTP decisions made by its Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service – after the health secretary recommended the change following the Dr Bawa Garba case.
The changes are in response to a consultation – called Promoting professionalism; reforming regulation – that looked at how the regulation system for UK healthcare professionals could be reformed.
The Government said regulators’ work ‘heavily’ focuses on fitness to practise – noting that the lengthy and outdated bureaucracy prevent the ‘development of a learning culture’.
In its response to the consultation, the Government said: ‘Investigations into allegations made about professionals (known as fitness to practise proceedings) will always be central to delivering public protection. However, these processes are bureaucratic and lengthy, which can be frustrating and stressful for patients and their families, registrants and employers.
‘They are also legalistic and adversarial, and this can be detrimental to the development of a learning culture. Fitness to practise concerns need to be handled in a timely, efficient and proportionate manner to ensure safe, high quality healthcare delivery.’
It added: ‘The changes to fitness to practise will allow decisions to be made more quickly, providing early resolution for patients, families and professionals, and ensuring that the steps necessary to protect the public are put in place sooner. This will also be more efficient, freeing up the regulators’ resources to better support the professionalism of all their registrants, ensuring that they have and maintain the right knowledge, skills and expertise to deliver safe, high quality care to patients.
‘The work of the regulatory bodies is currently heavily focused on fitness to practise, mainly due to the legislative constraints under which they operate. Our planned reform of fitness to practise procedures would enable regulatory bodies to devote more resources to support the professionalism of their registrants.’
GMC chief executive Charlie Massey said: ‘We welcome this long-awaited report and its emphasis on greater flexibility and autonomy for regulators.
‘As the health and social care system grapples with building a sustainable workforce, regulation must be agile enough to adapt and respond to changing future demands rather than confined by an approach determined only by today’s challenges.’
He added: ‘It has now been seven years since government first consulted on legislative reform. We look forward to a fully formed plan for taking those changes forward.’
The GMC announced in April that it was rolling out changes where GPs who make one-off mistakes were less likely to face a full investigation.
Meanwhile, a GMC-commissioned review published last month found that BME doctors are more disadvantaged when faced with a GMC investigation.
Commenting on the Government response to the consultation, NHS Employers chief executive Danny Mortimer said: ‘Employees and employers will welcome steps to make the fitness to practise process quicker, fairer and effective; they will also look forward to further reform, which will allow the regulation of new roles and professions to support their full deployment to care for our patients.’
A version of this story was first published by our sister publication Pulse.