Changes to the way we investigate cases

Meetings with doctors at the end of an investigation

In 2011 the GMC consulted on reforms about the way we deal with fitness to practise cases at the end of an investigation. BME Doctors Forum members were asked for their views on the proposals as part of the consultation. If a doctor accepts both that there is a problem and what action is needed to protect patients, then it would be faster, and less stressful for all involved, to enable the doctor to accept those measures at the end of an investigation. Where a doctor has accepted a sanction, a hearing would not be necessary.

From September 2012 we will be piloting meeting with doctors at the end of an investigation to support earlier sharing of information so that we can try to resolve the matter. The meeting will provide an opportunity for us to explain our view and, where a doctor disagrees with that view, to discuss what evidence he or she could provide that would impact on our decision. We will invite doctors to bring a representative of a defence organisation or other legal representative with them to the meeting. Where this is not possible we will encourage doctors to bring a friend or other supporter.

We have built a number of safeguards into the process to ensure doctors don't feel pressured into accepting anything they do not want to. Attendance at the meeting is purely voluntary and there will be no pressure placed on doctors to attend. Nothing will be decided at the meeting and there will be time after the meeting for a doctor to decide what evidence to provide. Doctors are given an opportunity to accept a sanction they will have 28 days to decide whether to accept. There will be no adverse inference drawn if a doctor does not accept a sanction at this stage and those cases will progress as now.

All staff involved in the meetings will undergo training about equality and diversity issues. In some cases, we will use independent facilitators to see if this is helpful.

When we have completed 80 meetings we will evaluate the pilot. We hope the pilot will help us to develop a process that is faster and less stressful for those involved.

Meetings with complainants

From September 2012 we will also be piloting a new Patient Information Service to improve the way we communicate with people who have made a complaint about a doctor. The service is for anyone who is a patient, a relative of a patient or other member of the public where we are investigating a complaint they have made to us about a doctor’s fitness to practise medicine.

We will invite people who have made a complaint to meet with a Patient Information Officer at our London or Manchester offices. We want to ensure we fully understand the details of the complaint and for complainants to feel more supported through the course of an investigation. It will allow us to better explain our procedures and ensure the outcome of a case is understood when made. Complainants will also be given the option of having a telephone meeting if they are unable to visit in person.

A Patient Information Officer will also offer to meet a complainant at the end of a case. They will explain the outcome and the reasons for the decision. We will also be able to point complainants to other services they may need.

During the pilot this service will only cover complaints from people living in the Greater London and North West regions of England. We will commission an independent evaluation of these pilots before we decide how best to proceed.