Tuesday, November 2, 1999 Published at 17:29 GMT
Go ahead for life bans on doctors
The GMC has approved the life ban option
The worst doctors can now be thrown out of the profession for good by their disciplinary body.
Previously, even if doctors were struck off the medical register, they could apply to be restored just 10 months later.
Even though only a small number are ever allowed to return to practise, there has been widespread public anger that this is possible.
Under proposals passed at the General Medical Council's meeting on Tuesday, that minimum period before the doctor can apply again would be increased to three years.
And if the doctor fails to be allowed back onto the register on more than one occasion, the body now has the right to impose a life ban.
Between 1988 and 1998, 153 doctors were struck off by the GMC, and only 39 were permitted to resume their careers.
'Change is reasonable'
Dr Krishna Korlipara, a GP who sits on the GMC's council, said it was only fair that there should be a reasonable interval between a striking-off and any attempt to return.
"In these circumstances, a permanent erasure from the medical register may be appropriate."
The changes will now be put out to public consultation.
Joyce Robins, a director for patient pressure group Patient Concern, said that certain behaviour, such as an indecent assault on a patient, should be met with an automatic life ban.
She said: "One poll showed that two out of three people already thought that this was happening.
"What is needed is more transparency from the GMC. Patients need to know the criteria that are used to reinstate a doctor."
The GMC's President, Sir Donald Irvine, said: "It is important that the public and the profession have confidence in us.
"We are aware that in the past the public have found some restoration decisions difficult to understand. We now always give an explanation and are continuing to seek other ways to ensure our procedures are comprehensible."
Currently, the Medical Register is available in paper form in libraries, but in future, the public should be able to search a website to check that their doctor has the correct qualifications.
A spokesman for the GMC said that there had been some opposition to the internet plan from doctors worried about personal details being so easily available.
Criticism from complainants
The GMC has come under criticism for its handling of complaints against doctors from members of the public.
A survey by the Consumers' Association found that no action was taken against the vast majority of the doctors involved, and that many complainants felt aggrieved about the way their concerns had been dealt with.
The GMC is also cracking down on poorly-performing doctors with a system of regular testing to make sure everyone on the Medical Register is competent to practise.
This is expected to be up and running inside the next few years.