Fewer full GMC investigations after pilot scheme success
Changes being made by the General Medical Council (GMC) will reduce the number of full investigations into one-off mistakes by doctors – known as single clinical incidents – after a successful two-year pilot scheme.
The move follows a trial during which information was gathered quickly, following a complaint or referral, to assess if there was any ongoing risk to patients, and before deciding if full investigations were required.
More than 200 single clinical incident cases were closed during the pilot after the additional information, such as medical records and input from independent experts, doctors’ responsible officers and the doctors themselves, was considered at an early stage.
"Protecting patients is our priority. But opening full investigations unless absolutely necessary is not in the interests of patients or doctors, and causes additional stress and delay."
Chief Executive, GMC
Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC, said:
‘Protecting patients is our priority. But opening full investigations unless absolutely necessary is not in the interests of patients or doctors, and causes additional stress and delay. We’ve found that getting more information quickly in certain cases clarifies if there is any ongoing risk to patients, and so whether we need to take action.
‘The pilot was to see if using that approach in cases involving allegations of one-off clinical mistakes would allow us to properly assess the risk without the need for a full investigation. It does, and as the pilot was a success it will now be implemented as our standard practice.
‘Not all complaints are suitable for this process but during the pilot we were able to avoid the need for full investigations in many cases that involved single clinical incidents. Even where doctors had made a mistake we were able to check if they understood what had gone wrong and had taken steps to make sure it wouldn’t happen again, avoiding the need for action.’
The new process means that once additional information has been gathered, the GMC will decide whether to open a full investigation or to close the complaint following its initial enquiries.
Concerns that can be considered single clinical incidents are those that involve a single instance of treatment to one patient. During the two-year pilot, 309 cases were considered. And after initial enquiries, 202 of them were closed without the need for a full investigation.
Charlie Massey added:
‘We have made a lot of changes to our fitness to practise processes, and this means we can deal with concerns quicker, reduce the impact on doctors and ultimately protect patients in a more timely manner. This is just the latest example of that ongoing work.
‘But at present we are still required by law to investigate any allegation that a doctor’s fitness to practise is impaired. We continue to ask the UK Government for legislation to give us more flexibility, and which would allow us to further improve the ways we can resolve fitness to practise concerns.’