GMC announces new tribunal service for doctors

A NEW independent tribunal service will take over the running of doctors’ fitness to practise hearings next year, the GMC has announced.

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service will be operationally separate from the GMC’s investigation arm. It will be headed by a senior judicial figure who will be expected to report to parliament every year and to the GMC twice a year.

The new service will make the hearings process quicker and less stressful for doctors and will increase confidence in the fitness to practise adjudication process, the GMC says.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson told the BMJ: "I think it’s a very fundamental right of people who are going through a judicial process that they see a separation like this between the 'prosecution' process and the adjudication process. Increasing the separation makes the autonomy and the fairness of the system more explicit."

In addition to making judgements in fitness to practise cases, the tribunal’s chair will deal with procedural and administration issues before the hearing date. The GMC hopes this will improve efficiency and reduce the length of the hearing itself.

Of the 102 responses to the consultation on the tribunal, 76 per cent supported the plans to establish a tribunal service. Sixty-four per cent agreed that the GMC and the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence should be allowed to appeal against tribunal decisions, although 24 per cent thought that this provision might cause confusion or that the tribunal decision should conclude the GMC’s case against a doctor.

But the GMC has said it is important it has the right to challenge fitness to practise decisions in the High Court, considering it will be held to account for rulings.

The GMC has also approved plans to hold all hearings in Manchester from next year, rather than running hearing centres in both Manchester and London. Around 70 per cent of GMC hearings already take place in Manchester with the rest held in London. This move is expected to save around £2.8million per year but has caused some controversy.

Establishing a new tribunal service is part of the GMC’s modernisation of its fitness to practise process. It has already set out plans that would allow doctors to accept a sanction without going to hearing.