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Emma Harrison, Consumer's Association
"We are delighted that this has become law"
 real 28k

Thursday, 23 November, 2000, 10:11 GMT
Go-ahead to probe retired doctors
Waiting room
Patients will have more redress against doctors
Doctors suspected of malpractice will no longer be able to avoid NHS investigations by "retiring" from the health service.

A Private Members Bill which receives Royal Assent on Thursday gives new powers to the health service ombudsman - the ultimate authority within the NHS complaints system.

Previously, the retirement of a doctor meant the end of any inquiry by the ombudsman, while the doctor concerned could still work as a locum treating patients.

Now, however, the investigation can continue.

At its conclusion, should the doctor be found guilty of malpractice, he or she can be censured in a report, or even reported to the General Medical Council, which can, in extreme cases, remove the doctor's right to practice.

Deputy Health Ombudsman Hilary Scott told BBC News Online: "There have only been eight occasions over the last four years when this has happened.

"However, this does close a loophole, and makes things neater."

The new powers are a reflection of the increasing role of the ombudsman in the health service complaints system since 1996, when that body was allowed to investigate matters of clinical competence for the first time.

Although the body has no direct powers to punish doctors, hospital trusts and health authorities, it can refer doctors to the GMC if it thinks the case is bad enough to merit it.

The Private Members Bill, the Health Service Commissioners (Amendment) Act 2000, was introduced by Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Conservative MP for Wealden.

Consumers' Association

The blueprint for the law was drafted by the Consumer's Association, in the wake of a case reported in its "Which?" magazine about a retired headteacher who died of leukaemia.

Her husband felt that misdiagnosis by the GP was to blame, but after contacting the health authority, was told that the complaint could not continue because the doctor had since retired.

A spokesman for the Consumers' Association said: "Unfortunately this Act does not apply to private doctors and our next Bill tackles this.

"We want private doctors to be regulated to the same high standard as their NHS counterparts."

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16 Nov 00 | Background Briefings
How the NHS deals with complaints
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