GMC recognises personal impact of complaints

AN independent review into the personal impact on doctors subject to fitness to practise procedures has led the GMC to make changes in the way it investigates complaints.

The changes include increased support being made available to doctors undergoing investigation. The GMC will also to seek to obtain key information more quickly after receiving a complaint to help determine whether an investigation is needed. This process, known as ‘provisional enquiries’, has already prevented around 400 cases from going to a full investigation.

The GMC will also now have the option to pause the process if a doctor under investigation is “very unwell” so that they can receive medical treatment.

Professor of psychiatry, Louis Appleby, was approached by the GMC after it commissioned an independent review into cases over an eight year period where doctors had died from suicide while subject to investigation. He was asked to advise on how to reduce the impact and stress of such investigations on doctors and this involved working closely with policy teams, looking at each step of the investigation process from when a complaint is received to when the case closes or, in a minority of cases, gets referred to tribunal.

Professor Appleby, whose experience includes leading the Centre for Mental Health and Safety, said: "Recognising the vulnerability of any doctor facing a fitness to practise investigation, whether or not they are known to have poor mental health, was a priority when I was appointed to advise the GMC on making improvements to its investigations.

"Investigations can be punitive in effect, even if that is not the intention. Being able to see things from the point of view of the hardworking, perfectionist, sometimes distressed and probably remorseful doctor was key to reforming the process."

Dr John Smyth, a former GP, who oversees case examiners at the GMC, said: "Being complained about is never going to be pleasant. I’ve been complained about while working as a doctor and it can be a very stressful and worrying time.

"With Prof Appleby’s expertise we have tried to put ourselves in the shoes of doctors and introduced a series of improvements that will be more compassionate. We have improved our communications and staff have been trained by medical professionals to recognise the signs of doctors who may be vulnerable.

"We have also revised our guidance for employers to encourage them to deal with matters locally if GMC involvement is not required. We continue to call for legislative change to further reform our processes and deal with cases consensually when both parties are in agreement on the outcome."