The dreaded GMC led “Fitness to Practice Panel” has died. Long live Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS). It is headed by a highly respected Judge, Sir His Honour David Pearl. It can only mean good news for the medical fraternity as a whole. The very fact that it is headed by a highly respected Judge who until recently, the President of The Immigration Appeal Tribunal and President of the Care Standards Tribunal is a welcome change. He is also the author of “Care Standard Legislation Handbook” and should have a very good handle on a day to day working of the Health care in this country.
The aims of the new organisation are laudable – “Aim is to enhance the confidence of doctors, professional bodies and patients in the impartiality, effectiveness and transparency of the GMC’s adjudication function.” All these qualities hopefully make stories as portrayed in “A Kangaroo Court: A Triumph of Mediocrity” a thing of the past. Does the statement mean that the organisation has finally accepted that these qualities were missing?
The blurb on the website says – “One of the early priorities for the MPTS is to make improvements to the way that panellists are trained and performance managed. This will lead to higher quality decision making”. There does not seem to be much change in this statement from before. All the panellists and assessors in the old GMC led FTP panels were supposed to be “fully trained”.
There was always a question of “accountability” before for their actions. Now the MPTS and its officers are answerable to the Parliament. Another major move from before is the separation of GMC as the Investigator and Prosecutor and the MPTS will function as the Judge. This is the first time in the history of General medical Council that the Prosecutor and Judge have been separated.
His Honour David Pearl has been quoted as saying ‘As incoming Chair, I want to make certain from the very start that decisions made by the MPTS are impartial, proportionate and evidence-based; that the MPTS enhances patient safety and that we increase the confidence in the adjudication process itself among doctors and the public.’ The point of note here is “Evidence based”. In the past hearings, evidence was never really sought and statements from individuals were taken as gospel truth (read ‘A Kangaroo Court: a Triumph of Mediocrity’).
Council for Health Care Regulatory Excellence (CHRE) was involved from the beginning in consultation during setting up of the MPTS. The CHRE was quite clear on the issues of Panellists training, which included regular appraisal of panellists. Hopefully this will clear some of the dead wood that populates team now. The CHRE also insisted on accountability and transparency in the dealings between MPTS and the GMC. There is still a question of presence of Legal Assessors and the Chair of the panels. It is not very clear as to whether there would be any move away from the past practice of GMC appointed legal assessor and a Chair.
Other major reforms include:
- The introduction of digital recording of hearings.
- Enabling panel chairs to be involved in pre-hearing case management.
- The introduction of a power to make costs orders in cases where either the registrant or the GMC has been unreasonable in the conduct of proceedings.
- The introduction of legally qualified chairs.
While all the information that is coming out in the news about the newly launched MPTS makes positive reading and may go a long way in increasing the confidence of the medical profession, its website itself does look remarkably similar to the old GMC. So, I wonder if we are entering into a new era of transparency and high quality impartial decisions or if it is just old wine in a new bottle. Only time will tell. Watch this space.