Plans to deny doctors and dentists under investigation by their professional regulator a defence on health grounds have been “specifically and strongly” opposed by MDDUS.
While giving a cautious welcome to a majority of proposals by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to reform the UK’s healthcare professional regulators, MDDUS said it was “not appropriate” to categorise health issues as a lack of competence.
MDDUS, which represents the professional interests of more than 50,000 doctors and dentists across the UK, said its warning was made starker by the impact of the pandemic on clinicians’ mental health and wellbeing.
Dr John Holden, chief medical officer at MDDUS, said: “Health cases need to be dealt with more sensitively than other cases. This is of utmost importance with cases involving mental health problems."
“It is simply not appropriate for health to be placed into the same ground as competency."
“In fact, this seems a pejorative way to view matters and highly problematic in terms of the way in which health issues amongst clinicians are viewed by their patients and the public.”
In a survey of its membership at the height of the second wave of Covid-19, MDDUS found that:
• More than four in ten of all its members were more anxious than at the start of the pandemic
• Nearly half were worried their decisions during Covid-19 will lead to a claim or complaint against them, and
• Amongst dentists, almost half said their stress levels had increased and, of that group, 87% said they had high levels of anxiety
Stephen Henderson, head of dental division at MDDUS, said: “The mental health of our medical and dental professionals is clearly a very important live issue."
“To categorise ‘health’ as a lack of competence would be a seriously retrograde step to take."
“The issue is also not just about registrants. Attending to and respecting registrants’ health is also good for patients and for the retention of doctors and dentists.”
In addition to its opposition to the proposed reforms to health grounds, MDDUS raised its concern that the DHSC appeared to be focussed on reforming one regulator at a time, starting with the General Medical Council (GMC).
It said: “It would be preferable to apply changes across all regulators rather than initially the GMC – particularly since one fundamental aim of the proposed reforms in general terms is to introduce many of the regulators to processes already applied by the GMC.”
And, while stressing its support for the wider principle of regulatory reform, MDDUS said in its submission to the DHSC: “Proper consultation on the detail of new rules is essential if a regime that gives more flexibility to the regulators is to work in practice."
“To the extent that proposals are seen to be disproportionately tipped in favour of complainants/prosecutors – as we’d assert the abolition of the five year rule is and the Professional Standards Authority's’s wish for the right to appeal consensual disposal cases – then the gains in credibility with the profession and reduction in stress for individual registrants are undermined.”