The GMC has announced plans to introduce steps designed to reduce the number of fitness to practise investigations it carries out.
The announcement follows a two-year pilot looking at cases of one-off mistakes by doctors. Prior to the pilot, all of these types of cases went through a full investigation, with the majority closing with no action taken. The pilot has shown that key pieces of information helped assess the risk to patients, which is the main deciding factor in whether we open a full investigation or close the case at the outset.
The pilot used a method called ‘provisional enquiries’ to decide whether a full investigation is needed for cases involving a single clinical incident. The GMC look at key pieces of information at an early stage to assess the incident and, if the doctor made a mistake or omission, what actions the doctor has taken to learn from it and minimise the chance of it happening again. This helps to assess whether the doctor presents an ongoing risk to patient safety and decide whether a full investigation is needed.
To do this we look at as full a picture as possible, with information such as:
- views of the patient and his or her family
- comments from the doctor and any actions they’ve taken
- any local or other third-party investigation(s), including responsible officers and employers
- the opinion of independent clinical experts
Kris Matuszczak, Investigation Manager for Triage, Complaints and Liaison at the GMC, confirmed that using provisional enquiries for cases of one-off mistakes by doctors has become a standard process from the start of this year.
The new provisional enquiries process has shortened the process to just over 60 days, compared to the average of six-eight months for a full investigation.
He continued: “I believe the improvements we’ve made to this process are a further step in making our processes less stressful for everyone and ensuring they remain fair.
“We know this isn’t a solution to all concerns about our investigatory processes. But we hope it shows our commitment to working with employers, patients and doctors to provide outcomes to these difficult situations as quickly as possible.
“This is part of our drive and a comprehensive programme of reform to speed up our fitness to practise processes, reduce the stress of investigations for doctors facing allegations, and support patients when they have concerns.”
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