There is no denying that doctors, and other healthcare professionals, work under significant pressure and stress every day.  This can put doctors at increased risk of making mistakes and/or falling short of GMC standards.

Whilst the GMC states that it will “always consider the individual circumstances and take any relevant factors known to us into account”, the reality is that investigations will take months, in some cases years, to complete at the expense of the doctor’s mental and, at times, physical well-being.

GMC referrals are unfortunately an occupational hazard for doctors, and doctors should expect to be referred to the GMC at some point in their career.  There are things doctors working under stress and pressure can do to protect their fitness to practise and minimise the risk of a referral to the GMC.  In this article, we will also look at the options available to doctors should they find themselves the subject of a GMC referral and investigation.

Minimising Risk

  1. Avoid working outside your area of competence – Doctors working in a wider system or environmental pressures beyond their control, particularly staff shortages, may be asked to undertake duties beyond the limits of their competence or capability.

Doctors should avoid this.  The Good medical practice (paragraphs 7, 14) makes clear doctors must be competent in all aspects of their your work and recognise and work within the limits.  Where doctors are asked to work outside their competency, their employer must provide appropriate induction training and clinical supervision before this work takes place.

The GMC has provided further advice to doctors who are asked to work outside their area of competency.

  1. Raising concerns – All doctors have a duty to raise concerns where they believe that patient safety or care is being compromised by the practice of colleagues or the systems, policies and procedures in the organisations in which they work.

Connect to the above, in cases where patients cannot access treatment due to decisions not in your control, you must be open and honest with your patient and follow the principles of good practice on communicating with patients, set out in the GMC’s “Decision-making and consent” guidance.

It is vitally important that doctors make sure they record any concerns about working outside your competence, the steps you have taken to raise concerns and the impact on patient safety. 

Responding to a GMC Investigation

Despite their best efforts, doctors might still find themselves the subject of a GMC investigation.  We fully understand the stress this will undoubtedly cause.  There are several opportunities during the GMC’s investigation process where a resolution could be reached without the need for any sanctions. 

In summary, during the “Preliminary Enquiries” stage, you should be given an opportunity to respond to the complaint(s) made.  Should the GMC open an investigation, there are further opportunities to submit a response and evidence during the “Case Examiners” stage.  We have had significant success at Case Examiner stage for our clients.

Both these junctures in the fitness to practise investigation process offer doctors a real opportunity to have their investigation(s) closed without the need for a full fitness to practise tribunal hearing.

However, early engagement with specialist legal advice is key.  We know that seeking early legal advice vastly improves doctor’s prospects of an early and successful resolution to any investigation.

Kings View Barristers

With over 30 years combined experience, Kings View Chambers have established itself as one of the best when it comes to fitness to practise defence.  We fully understand that fitness to practise defence is not merely about processes and procedures.  We also understand that we are working with people who are anxious and worried about what investigations might mean for them, their professions and the reputations.

We are proud to be rated ‘excellent’ by our clients.  Our commitment to client care is genuine in both seeking the very best outcomes for our clients, but also ensuring we do what we can to support them through the process.

Contact us today for a no obligation and free telephone consultation about your case in the knowledge that you are speaking to one of the best in the business.


Disclaimer: This article is for guidance purposes only. Kings View Chambers accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken, or not taken, in relation to this article. You should seek the appropriate legal advice having regard to your own particular circumstances.

Stephen McCaffrey

I am a GMC Defence Barrister who has represented large number of medical professionals before their regulatory bodies in either first instance proceedings or appeals.  I can help with all matters relating to GMC Fitness to Practise Referrals issues including:

  • GMC fitness to practise referrals
  • GMC fitness to practise hearings
  • Appeals against a MPTS Tribunal determination
  • MPTS Interim Order hearings
  • Appeals against a MPTS Interim Orders Tribunal determination
  • Preparing your case before the Case Examiners
  • Help with the decision of the Case Examiners
  • Help with voluntary removal
  • Registration advice
  • Appeal against refusal of registration
  • Restoration to the Register
  • Investigation and disciplinary hearings at work
  • Criminal investigation and proceedings
  • Police cautions
  • DBS [Disclosure and Barring Service] issues


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