Last year, nearly 12% of doctors attended hearings at the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) without legal representation. The tribunal service runs hearings for doctors whose fitness to practise is called into question.
Bojana Connor, adjudication co-ordinator at the MPTS, is part of a team that helps doctors to use the new Doctor Contact Service at the hearing centre.
What is the Doctor Contact Service and who offers it?
Well, this is a relatively new initiative, which we’re piloting to improve the support offered to doctors at MPTS hearings, particularly those who attend on their own or without representation.
We want to help lessen the isolation and stress that doctors can encounter, but we’re also there to signpost useful support material and services, as well as giving information about the hearing process. This was one of the proposals that came from our work with Professor Louis Appleby to reduce the stress and impact of the process.
The team involves staff from across the MPTS. We all share a desire to help and to make a difference. Doctors are free to decline our offer of support, but we’ve found that largely, they are appreciative of our assistance.
What type of service do you offer to doctors on the day of their hearing?
A doctor is greeted by a Doctor Contact Service team member and shown to their private waiting room. We’ve recently made some improvements to doctors’ waiting facilities in order to make the waiting time more comfortable.
In the waiting room, there’s free telephone access to external support services. These include the BMA’s Doctor Support Service, which is a confidential helpline for doctors who need emotional support.
There is also a telephone information service, run by student volunteers from the BPP Law School and the University of Law, where doctors can get information on the hearings process, how to prepare and what to expect on the day of their hearing.
We communicate closely with the MPTS Tribunal Clerks, whose role includes providing administrative support to tribunals, and so we are able to update doctors on hearing waiting times and progress. If a doctor has any questions or queries about how their hearing works, we are more than happy to clarify or to point them to sources of useful information.
What made you want to take part in this service?
Ever since I joined the MPTS, just over four years ago, I have been interested in helping self-represented doctors. I am in the process of finishing a Psychology degree as well as completing a teacher training course in Mindfulness alongside my job at the MPTS.
I suppose my interests in psychology and people’s wellbeing, together with my knowledge of the hearing process, meant that I was in a good place to take on this additional role.
What has the response been so far?
So far the response has been overwhelmingly positive! We’ve received some excellent feedback from the doctors, which confirms our view that this is a worthwhile service:
I appreciate that my stress and distress had been noted and that someone was available to talk through matters.
It is nice to be welcomed by a friendly face. It is reassuring there is someone available to give you help, advice and explanations if needed.
Personally, I find it most rewarding to meet doctors and help alleviate some of the stress and apprehension on the day, simply by talking to them. And seeing unrepresented doctors now being supported by me and my colleagues is really positive.
What is the main challenge you faced as a group?
At the moment, the Doctor Contact Service is still in a trial phase. We are trying to assess how we might go the extra mile in our dealings with the doctors concerned. It’s not our role to discuss the specifics of doctors’ individual cases, but at times this can be quite challenging, as doctors sometimes want to do so.
What would you like to see in future in terms of the development of this project?
In future, I would like to see even more MPTS staff get involved in the Doctor Contact Service. Our next step is to raise awareness among doctors that the service is available.
We are also looking to see how we might engage with and support doctors during the pre-hearing stage. I really want more doctors to benefit from this kind of support and to be able to access it early in the process.
Any doctors who have a hearing scheduled at the MPTS can email the team to find out more about how we can assist.