Anthony Omo, the GMC’s Director of Fitness to Practise, looks at the proposals in our new consultation and what it means for doctors and patients.
From publishing surgical outcome data to patient satisfaction scores – information about health care is now more accessible than ever. This trend is welcome but it poses some challenges for professional regulation.
Here at the GMC we are making better use of our data to give patients more information about health services and to see how we can better support doctors throughout their careers.
Of course our first concern is to protect the public, and patients have a right to know if there have been serious concerns about their doctor. When serious concerns are raised with us we investigate to see if patients or public confidence in the profession could be at risk.
We are one of the most open regulators in the world and we publish details of current and historic sanctions on our website. This includes details of doctors who have been suspended, given conditions, agreed undertakings or been erased from the medical register altogether.
Fair to doctors
Striking this balance is at the heart of our new consultation: should sanctions be removed from the public domain when publishing them is no longer in the public interest because the event happened a long time ago or the doctor is no longer registered?
Under current rules, the outcomes of tribunal hearings are puublished online and are available to the public indefinitely, even after restrictions have been lifted or the doctor has left the medical register. This could be about to change.
In our consultation we are proposing new time limits depending on the sanction imposed and whether the doctor is still practising. Under these proposals, for example, doctors who have been suspended and are still registered would have their sanction published for 20 years, after which it would no longer be made available online or disclosed to the public. For doctors who are no longer registered sanctions would continue to be published for five years from the doctor leaving the register.
Making information accessible to patients
We are also proposing other changes to make the information we publish more accessible to patients.
Our website includes the outcomes of fitness to practise investigations from 2005 onwards when we introduced electronic records. Older sanctions, while not published online, are available on request. We are now proposing to transfer online the details of investigations from 1994 to 2005, where a doctor is still registered, to give patients more information about their doctors.
The consultation also includes proposals to make decisions clearer in cases where a doctor has appealed a sanction or agreed undertakings. We want to make fitness to practise decisions more transparent and so we are proposing to publish more information when a doctor has agreed undertakings or appealed a sanction to help people understand the reasons behind these decisions.
We want to strike the correct balance between the rights of patients to know and fairness to doctors, when publishing a sanction is no longer in the public interest. To get this important balance right we need to know what doctors, patients and other health professionals think. It’s essential that we get a broad range of views and I hope people from across the health service, as well as the wider public, will get in touch and respond to our consultation.
Anthony Omo is Director of Fitness to Practise