We have started a recruitment campaign for a new Chair to take over from Professor Sir Terence Stephenson as he reaches the end of his four-year term leading our Council.
Here Professor Sir Terence reflects on his time serving on the Council and what skills and qualities we are looking for in the person who succeeds him.
It’s hard to believe nearly four years have passed since I took on the role of Chair of the GMC. For me, this has been an enormously challenging and rewarding time. I have enjoyed my time as Chair, although there have certainly been some difficult periods, and if the rules* allowed me to apply for a further term I would. Unfortunately, having served eight years on Council that is not allowed.
It has been particularly challenging because health systems are under more pressure than ever. In the last four years we’ve seen trainee doctors in England strike over their contracts and the wider medical profession speaking up about under-resourcing and fatigue. I’ve worked in the NHS throughout my career and never seen it so pressed.
I have continued to practise on the frontline of the NHS throughout my time as Chair and been revalidated twice and, despite having greater experience than I did earlier in my career, I feel more pressure on the wards now than I used to. Doctors have been unhappy about that for some time, as has the GMC. It is in this difficult environment that the regulator operates. Where possible we have addressed those issues. We’ve spoken out repeatedly, taking action where education and training are being compromised, making our standards more accessible and becoming a lighter touch regulator.
Over the last four years the GMC has been committed to significantly stepping up support for doctors – from reviewing how postgraduate training can be made more flexible to developing mobile apps, allowing doctors to access ethical guidance on the go. There are now more staff members working on the ground across the entire UK, directly engaging with and supporting the frontline.
There have also been major reforms to the fitness to practise process – within the confines of the inflexible legislation we operate under – to make regulation less burdensome and reduce the stress on doctors. The number of investigations that were opened following a complaint was reduced to 18% last year (compared to around 30% in 2014) and there is now a dedicated team that works with doctors experiencing health problems. The number of investigations for clinical competence only was reduced by 52% in the space of four years.
We’ve started the process of introducing a Medical Licensing Assessment (MLA) to bring greater consistency to how doctors show they have the capabilities to join the register. We’ve also gone through an intense period of operational savings, leading to the introduction of a new fixed-term discount for newly qualified doctors when they join the register and reductions across the board for all other fees.
And it is for these reasons that my time as Chair has been so rewarding. As a doctor my feelings towards the GMC weren’t always positive; they are a regulator and I have myself twice experienced what it is like to be investigated and later exonerated. But I applied for the post as Chair because I could see that the GMC has a real appetite to do what it does both fairly and well.
It has been a privilege for me to serve an organisation with such a dedicated staff that is committed to change and improvement and that is genuinely listening to what doctors are telling them. Although we do have to take difficult and unpopular decisions about doctors, we want to better support every single doctor, trainer and medical leader before something has gone wrong – not when harm has happened to patients and doctors.
Of course there is plenty more to do and there is no doubt that my successor will be joining the GMC at a particularly critical point in time for the medical profession, following the case of Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba, which has had a particular impact on our relationship with the profession.
The GMC is looking for someone with high personal credibility, strong diplomatic skills and the ability to build and manage effective relationships. They will also play a vital role in driving forward our ambition to further shift the emphasis of our work from acting when things have gone wrong to continued support for all doctors in the delivery of the highest standards of care. I can promise you that it won’t be easy but it should be hugely fulfilling.
Applications will be open until 9 May to both lay and medical candidates, across the four countries of the UK. The position is being advertised through a wide range of media publications and recruitment websites to make sure we are reaching out to a diverse group.
The recruitment process will follow guidelines set out by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), Good practice in making council appointments [PDF]. The selection panel is made up of two current members of the GMC’s Council and three individuals independent to the GMC. They are responsible for making recommendations for appointment to the Privy Council. The Privy Council then make the final decision. All stages of the recruitment process will be managed by an external agency, GatenbySanderson.
To find out more about the role you can check the GatenbySanderson website.
*The length of time a Chair can stay in post is set out in legislation (the General Medical Council Constitution Amendment Order 2012). This states that the same individual can’t serve on an organisation’s Council for longer than a total of eight years in a 20 year period. Professor Sir Terence Stephenson will have served on our Council for eight years by the end of 2018 (our Chair for four years and a member of Council for four years previously), so he isn’t able to stand again as Chair.