Annual report 2020

Foreword from the Chair and Chief Executive

Clare Marx, Chair and Charlie Massey, Chief Executive

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been a timely reminder of the value of the National Health Service in our society. Healthcare professionals have shown remarkable fortitude, acting with compassion and professionalism to deliver care to those who need it.

The healthcare workers who have died over the course of the pandemic are a great loss. Throughout their careers, these clinicians had a huge impact on thousands of patients. We offer grateful thanks for their work and the commitment they held until the end of their lives.

2020 was the year that long-standing health inequalities were exposed. The disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on older people, on those with disabilities, and on both patients and healthcare workers from ethnic minority backgrounds has been a reminder of existing societal disparities.

Equality, diversity and inclusion are fundamental to our mission to be fair and effective, both as a regulator and an employer.

Evidence shows that doctors joining the UK medical workforce from other countries and those from ethnic minority backgrounds still suffer discrimination and disadvantage. We are determined to tackle the issues these doctors face, such as differential attainment and disproportionate fitness to practise referrals from employers. From 2021, we have adopted clear key performance indicators to drive the changes we want to see.

Responding to the pandemic has been a major focus of our work in the past year. Early in 2020, we gave temporary registration to over 30,000 past practitioners and registered around 5,000 final-year students early to increase the supply of available doctors. Some of our colleagues have also joined the effort, returning to the frontline as ITU nurses and vaccinators.

To provide practical support for doctors at this challenging time, we created a new Coronavirus online guidance hub, which was accessed over 87,000 times in 2020. It features information on themes including remote consultations, consent, working safely, and health and wellbeing.

To support the response to the pandemic, we deferred revalidation for over 60,000 doctors, enabling them to fully focus on frontline delivery.

We also paused fitness to practise investigations where there was no immediate patient safety risk, and published guidance to reassure doctors that we would take the unprecedented context into account where it was appropriate.

It was important for us to adapt quickly to support trainee progression. We worked with statutory education bodies, faculties, and medical royal colleges to allow more flexible approaches to assessing that trainees had the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to progress.

This saw us approving derogations to 77 curricula and changes to 108 exams in 2020. We also approved around 550 additional training locations, including the Nightingale hospitals, for trainees who were redeployed there, and developed new guidance for postgraduate exams, alongside medical royal colleges, faculties and trainees.

Despite the global disruption, many internationally qualified doctors continued to seek registration to work in the UK. To enable us to continue to run our Professional and Linguistic Assessments Board (PLAB) tests, we redesigned our processes and buildings in line with social distancing rules.

As at January 2021, the UK was the only country in the world that had continued to run its clinical exams.

We have continued with our ambition to shift the emphasis of our work, from stepping in when things have gone wrong, to supporting all doctors in delivering the highest standards of care.

So that those new to the service from overseas can understand some of the differences they may encounter when they join the health service, we’ve continued to develop our free Welcome to UK practice induction training. In 2020, we made this service virtual and continued to see high levels of interest, with 3,760 attendees across the year.

Enhancing the delivery of safe, high-quality care, and environments where doctors can thrive remained a core priority in 2020. We continued to strengthen our collaboration with fellow regulators on crucial issues like maternity, working with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and the Nursing and Midwifery Council to develop a shared data platform to allow us to spot trends early and identify actions to resolve issues more quickly.

As a patient safety body, it’s also vital that we have open channels of communication with patients and their families. From 2018 to 2020, our Patient Liaison Service (PLS) supported over 1,200 patients, relatives and members of the public who had raised concerns about a doctor.

Over 90% of the people surveyed about their PLS experience found the service helpful.

Despite the difficulties, we have continued to progress cases through our disciplinary processes where patient safety issues have been a priority.

To strengthen our local connections, we launched our new Outreach service. This brings together the work of our employer, regional and national liaison advisers across the UK. During 2020, colleagues engaged with over 23,000 doctors, medical students and other key interest groups across the four nations.

The insights from these engagements have been critical in the formation of our corporate strategy for 2021−2025.

The fast-moving landscape in which we work demands that we remain responsive, effective and timely. We’re confident that our strategy is robust and flexible enough to allow us to navigate the challenges ahead, and to seize the opportunities that will emerge as our healthcare systems across the UK recover from the pandemic.

In this extremely challenging year, we and the whole senior team are incredibly grateful to the GMC staff for their enormous effort. They committed to going the extra mile to enable change, thereby supporting doctors and protecting patients.

Dame Clare Marx

Chair

Charlie Massey

Chief Executive