New appeal powers for GMC

NEW powers to appeal medical tribunal decisions have been awarded to the General Medical Council after a long campaign by the regulator.

The GMC can now lodge an appeal against rulings made by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) which it feels are too lenient and do not "adequately protect patients".

Changes to the Medical Act mean the regulator can refer decisions to the High Court of Justice in England and Wales, the Court of Session in Scotland, and the High Court of Justice of Northern Ireland.

Since 2012, the MPTS has independently run hearings for doctors suspected of breaching GMC standards.

But until now, only doctors and the Professional Standards Authority – the watchdog responsible for overseeing the UK’s healthcare professional regulatory bodies – had the right to appeal to the High Court against MPTS decisions.

The new appeal powers are amongst a number of changes to the way the GMC and MPTS operate.

It is hoped the Medical Act reforms will improve efficiency and cut the length of MPTS hearings from the current average of 22 months.

The MPTS has also been made a statutory body that must report directly to Parliament each year. They have been given the power to award costs if either the GMC or the doctor behaves unreasonably during proceedings. A legally qualified chair will replace a chair and legal assessor in some hearings.

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said the changes represented "huge strides in UK professional regulation."

"This will help us to make sure doctors receive the support they require and patients receive high quality care," he said. "The new law underlines the separation of our investigations from the tribunal service and thereby strengthens our role as a patient safety organisation.

He added that the changes will also make investigations and hearings "more proportionate, faster and more efficient".

MPTS chair His Honour David Pearl said: "Our ambition is to reduce the average length of MPTS hearings, to reduce the pressure on doctors and witnesses. With these changes, I’m confident we will be able to achieve that.”