MPs have joined forces with the medical defence specialists MDDUS to call on Sajid Javid to abandon reforms that will “target the most vulnerable doctors”.
Conservative MP Dr Dan Poulter and the SNP’s Dr Philippa Whitford have issued an open letter to the Health Secretary urging him to reject the proposals that are contained in a package of reforms to healthcare regulation.
The letter follows a survey by MDDUS of its medical and dental membership which found that almost half of its members are suffering increased stress and anxiety as a result of working through the pandemic, with more than half considering quitting their profession or retiring early.
The MPs said they were concerned by proposals in the government’s consultation Regulating healthcare professionals, protecting the public to remove the option of a defence on health grounds for doctors and dentists under investigation by their regulator, and to abolish the General Medical Council’s “five-year rule”.
They said that the Secretary of State must “assure all who work in healthcare that they will be treated fairly in the case of a complaint of regulatory process.”
Dr Dan Poulter, MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said: “The proposals on the table to reform the General Medical Council are generally very welcome, so it is disappointing and concerning they include two proposals that put in jeopardy the principle that fitness to practise investigations are both fair and concluded faster to reduce unnecessary stress on our hard-pressed frontline health professionals.
“Re-categorising health grounds as a general lack of competence would have a disproportionate and unfair impact target on the most vulnerable doctors.
“It would undo the many advances made by the GMC in recent years in developing their procedures to support doctors in poor health.
“In the immediate aftermath of Covid-19 it is absolutely vital that cases brought under health grounds are dealt with sensitively and appropriately.
“An incompetence label on a doctor following a fitness to practise hearing would also make it harder for the return to work of someone who was genuinely unwell for a period of time.”
Dr Philippa Whitford, MP for Central Ayrshire, said: “These two proposals are of grave concern and threaten the fairness of fitness to practise investigations. The health of our workforce is a very important and live issue, and to categorise health as a lack of competence would be an inappropriate and damaging way to view sensitive health issues.
“The GMC’s five-year rule for investigating allegations has proven to be flexible in cases over five years old where it is in the public interest to investigate.
“The removal of this runs the risk of a dramatic increase in historic complaints taken against doctors where there is no current impairment or risk, causing great stress and uncertainty at a time where we know they are already under tremendous pressure.”
Dr John Holden, Chief Medical Officer at MDDUS, said: “We are working with Dr Poulter and Dr Whitford and hope the Secretary of State will urgently reconsider these proposals to ensure fairness in investigations and confidence for healthcare professionals.
“Failure to abandon these proposals could lead to serious unintended consequences for the rights of doctors and dentists at a time when they are already facing considerable pressure.”