Outdated cumbersome and inflexible legislation prevents us from supporting doctors, says GMC Chief Executive

The General Medical Council says that less prescriptive legislation is vital if regulators are to adapt to changing demands now and in the future.

The regulator says its efforts to innovate, protect patient safety and support the education and training of doctors will be hamstrung without urgent reforms. It urges government to proceed with legislative change following the government consultation on regulatory reform.

"Patients and the profession deserve better than this and it is time for the government to find the time to make the legislation fit for the world we live in."

Charlie Massey

GMC Chief Executive

The GMC cannot, without legislative reform, streamline its processes to deliver a model of regulation that is as flexible and adaptable to the needs of the modern medical workforce as it should be. The regulator is currently forced to work under an historic patchwork of highly prescriptive legislation which results in systems that are slow, bureaucratic and burdensome. That is bad for patients as well as for doctors.

For example, 850 doctors a year, who have not followed traditional training paths but who are qualified and willing to work as GPs or consultants in the NHS, are forced by outdated legislative requirements to submit over 1,000 pages of evidence to the GMC to get on to our specialist register. This can take many months to complete, directly impacting on the speed with which they can be brought into the NHS to provide high quality care to patients.

The call for reform comes in its response to the government’s recent consultation on professional regulation. The GMC, patients, the medical profession, other regulators and the political parties across the UK - including the Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh Governments - have called for a new, high level legislative framework that delivers autonomy and flexibility so they can better protect patients, support doctors, improve medical education and deliver for the wider health system across the UK.

The GMC also says that it is prepared to be held more accountable to parliament for any new powers it is given. Regulators should also be willing to report to and appear regularly at the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Irish Assembly to account for the work they are doing.

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said:

‘Successive governments have repeatedly promised to reform the GMC’s legislative framework and repeatedly failed to deliver. The need for reform is growing more acute with each year that passes. It is crucial the government now takes the opportunity to commit to reform as it considers responses to its consultation.

‘Our ambition to innovate and act at pace is hampered by current legislation, which is far too prescriptive. Too often we know how we would like regulate but we are unable to make changes because of the cumbersome process necessary to deliver them.

‘For example, the current legislation forces us to pursue investigations that would be better dealt with in other ways. At the moment around 75% of our investigations close with no further action. This causes needless distress for both doctors and patients. It is also a waste of resources; we would like to put these to better use by supporting good practice and professionalism and preventing harm.’

Mr Massey has also warned that the necessary reforms will not be achieved through piecemeal changes to legislation. A long-term and broad ranging approach is long overdue.

‘What we need is a new and future-proofed regulatory architecture rather than slight remodeling of the existing detail.

‘Patients and the profession deserve better than this and it is time for the government to find the time to make the legislation fit for the world we live in.’