Doctors' engagement in MPTS hearing process most closely linked to decisions, study shows

New GMC research has found that the outcome of tribunal decisions was consistently linked to doctors’ engagement with hearings rather than their personal characteristics.

The peer-reviewed study published in the journal BMC Medicine found that doctors who did not attend their hearing or lacked legal representation tended to receive more serious outcomes.

In contrast, there was no association between the seriousness of tribunal outcomes and a doctor’s age, race, sex, or whether they gained their primary medical qualification in the UK or abroad.

The research was carried out as part of the GMC’s ongoing programme of work to check if cases are handled fairly, and tribunal decisions are free from bias and discrimination.

It was a study of all 1,049 doctors referred for hearings at the MPTS and receiving an outcome from June 2012 to May 2017. This was 0.34 % of a total of 310,659 doctors registered at any point during the period. In order of increasing seriousness, the outcomes were: no impairment to practise, impairment, suspension of right to practise or erasure from the medical register.

In addition, MPTS hearing outcomes were shown to be unrelated to the year when they were produced. This suggests that decisions at the MPTS have been consistent since its inception in 2012.

The type of allegations and where a referral came from also played an important role in the outcomes. For example, allegations of performance related to less serious outcomes, whilst those of conviction led to stricter sanctions.

"Given the strong link between more serious outcomes and doctors not attending or having no legal representation at tribunals, we are exploring how we can encourage doctors to engage with the hearing process more."

Charlie Massey

GMC Chief Executive

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC said:

‘Given the strong link between more serious outcomes and doctors not attending or having no legal representation at tribunals, we are exploring how we can encourage doctors to engage with the hearing process more.

‘We are also continuing our work to tackle the disproportionate representation of some groups of doctors in referrals to a tribunal hearing. We know that doctors who are black and minority ethnic, male, older or non-UK graduates continue to be referred more often to our processes.’

Cases referred by employers are proportionally more likely to be referred to hearing at the MPTS. Independent Fair to Refer?  research commissioned by the GMC and published in June, explored this pattern of referrals by employers and made a number of recommendations. The GMC is discussing these with other partners, in order to tackle the disparity in referrals and improve fairness across the profession.

The MPTS has a range of support for doctors referred to a hearing. The Doctor Contact Service, which is available to all doctors on the day of a hearing and is particularly aimed at those attending alone or without legal representation. A member of MPTS staff unconnected to the doctor’s case can be available to talk at any time. The aim of this service is to help lessen the isolation and stress doctors might encounter, to signpost useful support services and to provide information about the hearing process. The MPTS’ Resource for doctors is also available on their website and explains each stage of the hearing process in straight-forward, non-legal language.