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The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"It's been a terrible year for the image of doctors"
 real 28k

Sir Donald Irvine, GMC president
"What is actually going on is the rebuilding of the whole system of medical regulation"
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Thursday, 29 June, 2000, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
GMC loses doctors' backing
General Medical Council under fire
Doctors have passed a vote of no confidence in the body which regulates them - despite warnings that this could give the government an excuse to step in and take over.

The British Medical Association's (BMA) annual conference voted four to one for a motion calling for radical reform of the General Medical Council (GMC), which deals with doctors accused of poor performance and misconduct.

The GMC has failed us. The GMC is a shambles

Dr Peter Terry, BMA delegate
Although delegates told the conference that they did not want to see the GMC disbanded, or an end to self-regulation of the profession, they agreed that they had no confidence in the way it was structured and run.

The GMC has been under the spotlight over a number of scandals, including serial killer Harold Shipman and disgraced gynaecologist Rodney Ledward.

The GMC responded to the BMA vote by saying it was already introducing wide-ranging reforms.

Dr Peter Terry, proposing the motion, said: "The GMC has failed us. The GMC is a shambles.

"The GMC's record of reform is not good. Without reform there will be no confidence."

He suggested a raft of changes that would transform the GMC's makeup. These included:

  • A member of the general public as president, and far more lay people deciding on GMC policy
  • Splitting up the three main roles of the GMC - investigating, holding hearings and educating doctors - and into separate bodies
  • All medical members of the GMC to be elected, rather than nominated by other bodies

BMA chairman Dr Ian Bogle said that there was likely to be resistance to change from some parts of the GMC, but that the majority of members would work to speed reforms.

He admitted that until reforms were enacted, regulation would "not be as safe as we would like".


Dr Peter Hawker, leader of the BMA's consultants' committee, said: "What we are trying to do now is to say to our patients: 'We share your worries and concerns."

During the debate, doctors spoke of their "total frustration" at the way the GMC had been run for many years, particularly citing the long delays before doctors suspected of misconduct could either be found guilty or cleared.

Dr David Pickersgill said: "Senior figures in the GMC give the impression that the shortcomings of the GMC have only been apparent for the last few months.

"We have been complaining about them for years."

However, opponents of the "no confidence" motion claimed it could be exploited by those in government favouring far tougher regulation of doctors.

Dr Simon Fradd, a member of the BMA's GPs committee, added: "Who could be sure that ambitious politicians, with a general election nearing, will not choose to use this to act against the medical profession."

Take heart

Dr Bogle said after the vote: "I think the GMC has gone a long way to responding to our views and the public should take heart from what has happened today."

Professor Sir George Alberti, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said: "We are relieved that the BMA has not voted to disband the General Medical Council which would have destroyed self-regulation for doctors."

GMC president Sir Donald Irvine told the BBC: "We have been taking forward a huge package of reforms in an organisation that was very old fashioned and in many ways still is.

"Big change does take some time."

He did not respond to questioning over the possibility of his own resignation.

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See also:

01 Jun 00 | Health
Doctors lash 'out of touch' GMC
09 Feb 00 | Health
GMC promises radical reform
11 May 00 | Health
BMA: Speed up complaints
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