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Monday, 12 June, 2000, 09:17 GMT 10:17 UK
GMC on the ropes
GMC
The GMC has regulated doctors for almost 150 years
The General Medical Council, responsible for regulating the medical profession in the UK, has been much criticised in recent years.

The criticism has come from all quarters - patients, politicians and the medical profession itself.

Some of the attacks have followed high-profile cases such as the Bristol heart scandal and the Shipman murders.

The government and patient groups have accused the GMC of merely looking after the interests of doctors.

Established in 1858, it is chiefly responsible for maintaining the medical register. Only doctors who are on the register are permitted to practise medicine in the UK.

The GMC is also legally obliged to deal with any "rogue" doctors. These include doctors accused of clinical malpractice and those who have been the subject of criminal charges.

Complaints against individual doctors are referred to the GMC's fitness to practice procedures.

Disciplinary committees decide whether a doctor is fit to continue in practise, whether they should be suspended for a specific period or whether they should be erased from the medical register, theoretically for life.

Opponents have been especially critical of the fact that lay members make up just one quarter of those sitting on the GMC, leaving doctors in the majority.

The GMC is introducing a series of reforms in an attempt to improve its image and its effectiveness.

The UK Government is expected to introduce reforms of its own later this year as part of efforts to strengthen professional regulation and to close any loopholes which allow "rogue" doctors to continue to practise.

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