GMC Plans New Rules on Doctors’ Licences
Sep 14, 2005 - 9:25:38 PM

The GMC Council at its next meeting in Edinburgh on September 20 is deciding whether to change the basis on which a doctor’s license to practise is approved in order to include the requirement to provide information which will support a more risk-based approach to regulation.

This approach is based on the principle that doctors who may be more at risk should be subject to a higher degree of scrutiny by the GMC compared with others, to whom a lighter touch will apply. In the first instance, the focus will be on doctors working outside a GMC ‘approved environment’ who do not have an employer at all, or who are employed but their employer does not have systems in place capable of providing assurance to the GMC about their fitness to practise.

The GMC would require all doctors to provide information describing their practice, which may include for example details about the scope of their work, the name of their employers if any and whether they practise within their specialty or outside it. An initial information gathering exercise would require all the UK’s practising doctors (around 120,000) to provide these details as a condition of being given a licence to practice.

Where doctors are not working within an approved environment patient and colleague questionnaires will be used to flag any concerns about fitness to practise. A pilot research project from Leeds University has suggested that these questionnaires are a potentially valid, reliable and practical means of gathering evidence. A further commission of joint research from CEFP and Peninsula Medical School is developing this work and the signs are very encouraging in terms of the validity and reliability of using questionnaires in this way.

Alongside this work, the York Health Economics Consortium has been commissioned to provide research which, among other things, explores whether it is possible to establish early indicators of serious impairment of fitness to practise.

President of the GMC, Professor Sir Graeme Catto, said:

“The GMC knows that the majority of doctors perform well in difficult circumstances and we are determined to concentrate enforcement resources on the small minority who present a threat to patient safety. Once we are able to establish where the genuine risk lies, these doctors will be subject to greater scrutiny while others will receive a lighter regulatory touch. We expect to work closely with employing authorities so we can provide them with any relevant research or information which helps them spot the warning signals and intervene before a failure in medical care, rather than afterwards.”

Chief Executive of the GMC, Finlay Scott, said:

“Changing the way we manage the licensing of doctors by gathering information about their practice will be a huge step forward in terms of enabling the GMC to analyse the activities of the medical workforce accurately. It will provide the foundation for research which should show us where the most risk to patients lies. This will help us simultaneously to improve safety and, working in a more joined up way with the NHS, to lessen the regulatory burden on those doctors who provide no cause for concern.”

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