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The BBC's James Westhead reports
80% of patients weren't happy with GMC
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GMC's president Sir Donald Irvine
"We're in the midst of a major programme of reform"
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Dr Sam Etherington, GP in Tower Hamlets
GMC has failed to protect patients
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Tuesday, 8 February, 2000, 18:04 GMT
GMC may close danger doctor loophole

gmc GMC discusses new power over suspect doctors

The General Medical Council (GMC) is to discuss closing a loophole which allows doctors who are a potential threat to patients to carry on working while they are under investigation.

GMC president Sir Donald Irvine said a radical and wide-ranging review of the council's procedures was under way.

One of the proposals would give the GMC the power to suspend doctors as soon as they come under police investigation or complaints are raised about their performance.

Part of the change has to be in the culture of the GMC
Sir Donald Irvine, GMC president
Under existing rules, doctors who are being investigated over their professional performance cannot be given an interim suspension from the medical register while an inquiry is carried out.

And the GMC cannot presently suspend a doctor in parallel with a police investigation - GP Harold Shipman could not be suspended by the GMC while he was under investigation by detectives.

Shipman was last week convicted of murdering 15 of his female patients.


Doctors must currently be accused of serious professional misconduct or have been convicted in a criminal court to warrant suspension.

Performance relates to a doctor's competence to practise medicine while misconduct suggests wrong-doing.

Sir Donald said: "There is to be a fundamental, clean sheet of paper review of the fitness to practise arrangement. The law is arcane, far too complex and one of the causes of the delays and frustrations that have really upset everyone.

"Part of the change has to be in the culture of the GMC, away from the cosy club atmosphere into a more responsive approach."

Dr Krishna Korlipara, a member of the GMC, said he had come across a number of cases where he was unhappy with a doctor continuing to practise while he or she was under investigation on a complaint about performance.

One case involved a histopathologist who was giving incorrect diagnoses which led to a woman having a breast removed unnecessarily.

We must introduce some methods of making suspensions so those proved guilty of serious offences do not get away with it in the way they appear to have done
Dr Krishna Korlipara, GMC member
Dr Korlipara said: "At the moment we are very much constrained. We are trying to straighten it out.

"We must introduce some methods of making suspensions so those proved guilty of serious offences do not get away with it in the way they appear to have done."

Under fire

Dr Korlipara said the proposed change would not have had any effect on the Shipman case.

GMC chief executive Finlay Scott admitted that case had damaged public confidence in the medical profession.

The Bristol Babies Inquiry has been most significant in spurring the GMC towards reform.

Fellow GMC council member Dr Edwin Borman said he backed plans to introduce what he called a "fast-track" suspensions procedure.

Other proposals being discussed by the GMC include extending the interim suspension period from three months to six months, with an option for renewal after that period.

And another proposal suggests doctors first referred to the GMC on impaired health grounds could also be passed on to the professional conduct committee if necessary, which is not currently permitted.

The review includes a plan to increase the number of lay people on the GMC's professional conduct committee to the point where half of its members are not from the medical profession.

A director of professional communications is to be appointed by the GMC in a bid to improve its public image.

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See also:
26 Aug 99 |  Health
Complaints overwhelm doctors' disciplinary body
10 Feb 99 |  Health
Radical shake-up for doctors
29 Jan 00 |  Health
Suspect doctor information to be released

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