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GMC pilot scheme: a reduction in the number of full investigations into one-off mistakes by doctors

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Following the completion of a successful two year pilot scheme, the General Medical Council (GMC) will now reduce the number of full investigations they carry out in relation to single clinical mistakes. More than 200 single clinical incident cases were closed during the pilot as it has been stated that opening full investigations, unless absolutely necessary, is not in the interests of patients or doctors.

The process within the two year trial period entailed a quick gathering of information further to a complaint or referral. This was done at an early stage and in order to assess any ongoing risk to a patient. The information gathered included medical records, as well as input from independent experts, doctors’ responsible officers as well as the doctors themselves. Once additional information was gathered, the GMC then decided whether to open a full investigation or close the complaint following its initial enquiries.

Charlie Massey, Chief Executive of the GMC, commented that getting more information quickly in certain cases clarifies whether there is any ongoing risk to patients and whether they need to take action. He made it clear that protecting patients is a priority and not all complaints are suitable for this process, however, opening full investigations can cause additional stress and delay and is not always in the interests of those involved.

It is suggested that the pilot has been a success as it has allowed the GMC to properly assess the risk without the need for a full investigation. It will now be adopted as a standard practice. Charlie Massey highlighted single clinical incidents, stating that, ‘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.

A single instance of treatment to one patient can be considered as a single clinical incident. 309 cases were considered in the two-year pilot and after initial enquiries, 202 of those cases were closed without the need for full investigation. This new practice is a milestone in terms of the GMC’s fitness to practise procedures. Charlie Massey comments that a lot of changes have been made to the GMC’s fitness to practise processes and this is just the latest example of work which is ongoing. Concerns can be dealt with quicker, the impact on doctors is reduced and patients can be protected in a more timely manner.

He further comments that the GMC are still required by law to investigate any allegation that a doctor’s fitness to practise is impaired. The GMC continue to ask the UK government for legislation to give them more flexibility and to further improve the ways that fitness to practise concerns can be resolved.

At Stephensons our specialist regulatory solicitors have extensive experience in dealing with cases before the GMC and are particularly knowledgeable in dealing with fitness to practise concerns. We are also recommended in the Legal 500 for our professional disciplinary work. If you find yourself being fully investigated by the GMC or even if a complaint has been made about you regarding a one-off mistake, our team of specialist lawyers are available to advise and assist you. For more information, please call us now on 01616 966 229.