Our Chair Prof Terence Stephenson looks at how light touch intervention by the GMC can help doctors in training and looks forward to next month’s GMC conference

One of the great things about my role at the GMC is that it allows me to continue practising medicine and meet with doctors all around the UK to hear about the issues that matter to them. In the last six weeks alone, in addition to my clinical work at UCLH, I’ve been fortunate enough to hear from fellow medics in Crewe, Newcastle, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast and Liverpool.

I was asked by some doctors recently whether the GMC could be more ‘light-touch’, and I wanted to try and answer that using three images: a fence at the top of a cliff; a canary down a coal mine; and an oven ready meal.

A fence at the top of the cliff

A fence at the top of a cliff, not an ambulance at the bottom
A fence at the top of a cliff, not an ambulance at the bottom

The first image is the idea of having a fence at the top of the cliff rather than an ambulance at the bottom. You stop people falling off rather than picking them up after they’ve been dashed on the rocks. To do that you need data and information, and we have the National Training Survey. 55,000 trainees give us information every year. That allowed us to go into one centre where trainees told us there was bullying and harassment and put a stop to that and help our trainees. So that’s one example of using data to target interventions and be lighter-touch.

The canary down the coal mine


The second example, the canary down a coal mine, was a method designed to give an early warning of poisonous gas levels rising so that coal miners could get out. In a large London hospital seeing over 100,000 patients a year the trainees told us that they weren’t in a safe working environment. Neither the supervision nor the training was of the right standard. And if it wasn’t right for the trainees then it’s not going to be right for the patients.

That smoke detector – that canary down the coal mine – allowed us to go into that hospital and say that if things didn’t improve we would remove the trainees. Our first priority is to keep them and patients safe. So that’s one way we’re using data to target an intervention.

The oven ready meal



My third image is an oven-ready meal. Of course we want our newly qualified doctors to feel prepared for starting work in the NHS each August. We asked doctors after they had been qualified a few months how well prepared they thought they were to start in August. And there was quite a difference. From some parts of the country doctors felt very well prepared, and in other parts less well prepared. What can we take from the places that are preparing them well, that are doing a good job, to the other places? That’s a targeted light touch intervention. We don’t go to every medical school and crawl all over them.  We say ‘your trainees and newly qualified doctors are telling us they don’t feel as well prepared to be a doctor as other places – how can we help?’

These are uncertain times for the medical profession and we all have a duty to support each other and the health system to make sure that patients continue to get the high standards of care that we have set ourselves. We’ll be looking in more depth at how we can promote and protect medical professionalism at the GMC conference 2016 on 6 December (10am to 4.30pm at the RCGP, 30 Euston Square). I hope to see you there.

The 2016 GMC conference will bring together people from across healthcare – including doctors, patients, employers and educators – to discuss key issues facing the medical profession. The keynote speaker this year will be Professor Kevin Fong, Consultant Anaesthetist at UCL Hospitals.

Have you got a question for our panel? Email it to events@gmc-uk.org.

Registration for the event has now closed but you can still get involved online and the follow the event using #gmcconf