Patient Safety - Reality Check

The British Reform Medical Boards

Doctors losing the power to police themselves

by Clare Dyer, legal correspondent

The British counterpart to America's state medical boards is the General Medical Council. It has turned the tide on the ability of healthcare professionals to police themselves.

The General Medical Council in Britain is losing the right to decide whether doctors' misconduct makes them unfit to practice. This is the biggest shake-up of medical regulation in the United Kingdom in 100 years.

The GMC will continue to set standards and investigate allegations of serious misconduct by doctors, but the right to adjudicate will pass to a separate body, probably an independent tribunal with legal, lay, and medical members.

The reform is outlined in a white paper on the regulation of doctors issued this week by Britain's Department of Health. The paper envisages a smaller GMC, with equal numbers of lay and medical members, ending the era of professionally led regulation. Members of the GMC and the other health professions' regulatory councils will be independently appointed by the Appointments Commission "to dispel the perception that councils are overly sympathetic to the professionals they regulate."

The British government published its responses to a series of inquiries into medical scandals—involving the serial killer GP Harold Shipman; the bungling gynaecologist Richard Neale; and three doctors who were found guilty of sex abuse of patients over many years (Clifford Ayling, William Kerr, and Michael Haslam). The proposals include better support for patients who register concerns, coordination of information from different sources, and more rigorous checks on references and qualifications when health professionals are recruited.

At the time of this writing, the original article about this could be seen at the British Medical Journal's site at this link.