By: 8 January 2015
Standards of conduct – General Medical Council (GMC)

Consulting editor James Watts gives a brief seminar on the complaints processes at the General Medical Council (GMC)

The role of the General Medical Council (GMC) as the regulator of medical practitioners is confirmed in statute by the Medical Act 1983 and its subsequent revisions [1]. The Medical Act empowers the GMC to maintain a register of approved practitioners, and to take disciplinary action against the registration of those who have failed to maintain appropriate standards, as well as governing other duties such as those related to education and standard setting.

This disciplinary action can range from the issuing of an official warning to the erasure of the individual from the register. The latter effectively stops the individual working legally as a doctor. This affects the civil rights of the doctor, and so the GMC must act within the law when making its decisions. The GMC therefore has strict rules governing its processes for the handling of complaints to ensure that it can maintain both the confidence of the public and the trust of the profession.

The standards that all doctors are supposed to apply to their personal and professional conduct are published in Good Medical Practice and its associated guidance [2,3]. Ignorance of this guidance is not regarded as a defence. Key paragraphs include:

  • 1 You must have the necessary knowledge of the English language to provide a good standard of practice and care in the UK
  • You must make sure that your conduct justifies your patients’ trust in you and the public’s trust in the profession
  • You must tell us without delay if, anywhere in the world:

(a) you have accepted a caution from the police or been criticised by an official inquiry

(b) you have been charged with or found guilty of a criminal offence

(c) another professional body has made a finding against your registration as a result of fitness to practise procedures.

Here I will outline briefly the complex GMC processes for handling complaints

Anaesthetists and the GMC

Campbell and colleagues compiled a study of the cases concerning anaesthetists who had been referred to the GMC in 2009, using the GMC’s own data [4]. They found that there were 105 cases where anaesthetists were referred to the GMC in this year, of which 81 cases were referred for detailed investigation. At this time they estimated that there were approximately 9000 registered anaesthetists in the UK [5]. The referral rate of anaesthetists to the GMC was therefore lower than the average for all doctors (0.095% vs 0.2%), but they were more likely to be referred by employing bodies rather than the public. Over 50% of the referrals related to either probity or clinical care issues. There were on average two different complaints per referred anaesthetist.

For those who may be anxious about the possibility of vexatious or undeserved referral to the GMC, a simple Internet search confirms that…

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James Watts
James Watts is a Consultant in Critical Care medicine and anaesthesia at East Lancashire NHS Trust in Blackburn