Doctors who have harmed patients could face sanctions even if they can show they have subsequently improved their practice in serious cases.
This could be one of a series of proposals to protect patients and uphold public confidence in the medical profession. They are part of a major consultation by the independent regulator of doctors in the UK, the General Medical Council, on how doctors should be dealt with when serious complaints about them are upheld.
Doctors could face restrictions on their practice, suspension or even have their registration removed if, for example, it is shown that they knew or should have known they were causing harm to patients in serious cases. This could happen even if they had subsequently improved their practice.
Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said:
‘Doctors are among the most trusted professionals, and rightly so, and they deserve to be treated fairly. In the vast majority of cases one-off clinical errors do not merit any action by the GMC. But if we are to maintain that trust, in the small number of serious cases where doctors fail to listen to concerns and take action sooner to protect patients, they should be held to account for their actions.
‘There have been occasions when we have been prevented from taking action in serious cases because the doctor has been able to show that they have subsequently improved their practice. We believe that doctors and patients want stronger action in these serious cases.
‘It is also right that patients or their families are told what went wrong and if appropriate they should be given a full apology. We believe this should be taken into account when deciding what if any sanction needs to be imposed to protect future patients and uphold the reputation of the profession.’
In practice there should be very few cases where these sanctions could be imposed but in the interests of patient confidence there should be the option to pursue this course of action when serious infringements have been made or if they failed to heed concerns and take steps to protect patients sooner.
The consultation, which includes events for patient groups, doctors, their representatives and lawyers, runs from 22 August to 14 November. The GMC will publish the outcome in 2015 and the findings will be used to inform a new version of the GMC’s Indicative Sanctions Guidance.