A brush with the law

A GP receives a letter from the GMC in regard to a failure to declare a conviction for a criminal offence. It turns out that an article in a local newspaper had reported that that the GP had been arrested and charged for driving at excessive speed and the story had been picked up by the GMC to the doctor's great surprise.

A GP receives a letter from the GMC in regard to a failure to declare a conviction for a criminal offence. It turns out that an article in a local newspaper had reported that that the GP had been arrested and charged for driving at excessive speed and the story had been picked up by the GMC - to the doctor's great surprise.

This scenario is not as unlikely as you might think and the MDDUS is often contacted by members having received such letters. It is a strict requirement that a UK-registered doctor informs the GMC if having been cautioned, charged with or found guilty of a criminal offence. The same is required for doctors on PCO performers lists. The consequences of not doing so can be serious.

What do I have to remember to tell the PCO?

It is a requirement of joining a performers list that doctors make various declarations. These are usually listed in the long application form that is presented to those who first apply and include declarations of ANY criminal convictions, police cautions and binding over. In Scotland, in addition or as alternatives, it includes acceptance of certain fines, and even when the doctor has been formally discharged in summary proceedings, he is required to notify the PCO. The list is long and contained within The National Health Service (Performers Lists) Regulations 2004 and The National Health Service (Primary Medical Services Performers Lists) (Scotland) Regulations 2004.

The requirements extend to counter fraud investigations, PCO investigations and GMC or investigations by other regulatory bodies; note that these are investigations not adverse outcome or adverse findings.

What does this mean for doctors? Most GPs who were in active practice in 2004 when the new regulations came into effect were moved automatically to the performers lists. They would have filled in a form at the time and may not have taken notice of all the requirements. New entrants to the performers lists must take time to think about and fill in as much detail as they can when they make an application. There may be a need for urgency in submitting applications but care should be taken to complete and review an accurate form.

Doctors do occasionally have doubts as to the information they should supply in these forms and are sometimes reluctant to declare minor or "old" offences. Criminal activities do not simply mean serious crimes but include road traffic offences and a range of misdemeanours which are not immediately obvious to the doctor as being criminal. The regulations say ANY crime and if a doctor is in doubt he should seek the help and assistance of an MDDUS medical adviser.

In addition, practising doctors need to be aware that by signing an application form and it being accepted, they are obliged to make certain undertakings. As well as agreeing to undertake appraisal and co-operate with NCAS assessments, they also agree to notify their PCO within 7 days if becoming subject to certain conditions. Specifically, if they:

  • are convicted of a criminal offence in the UK
  • are bound over following a conviction
  • accept a police caution
  • accepted or pay a procurator fiscal fine
  • have, in summary proceedings, been the subject of an order discharging him or her absolutely
  • are convicted elsewhere with a criminal offence which if committed in the UK would constitute a criminal offence
  • are informed by a licensing or regulatory body of an investigation and a finding against him or her
  • become the subject of such an investigation or an outcome that is adverse
  • become the subject of investigation by the NHS Counter Fraud Service or an outcome that is adverse
  • become the subject of any PCO investigation which might lead to removal
  • are removed, contingently removed or suspended from any list.

Further details can be found in the regulations (links above).

These are weighty responsibilities and if ignored can lead to investigation and action by a PCO. In addition, failure to conform to these undertakings whether through neglect or by intention, may form charges if reported to the GMC.

If in any doubt speak to an MDDUS medical adviser!

What do I have to tell the GMC?

In addition to requirements under the performers list regulations, registered medical practitioners are obliged to report certain matters to the GMC. In the booklet Good Medical Practice, paragraph 58 says: "You must inform the GMC without delay if, anywhere in the world, you have accepted a caution, been charged with or found guilty of a criminal offence, or if another professional body has made a finding against your registration as a result of fitness to practise procedures."

This is an extension to previous requirements when convictions were automatically notified to the GMC and increases the responsibility of the doctor to take positive action in informing the GMC. While this, hopefully, relates to a minority of doctors, failure to act might invoke charges in connection with GMC fitness to practise procedures.

It pays to read Good Medical Practice, if not regularly, at least once. Again, if in doubt, contact an MDDUS medical adviser for advice.