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Royal college fires criticism at ‘failing’ GMC over controversial legal cases

The General Medical Council (GMC) has been called upon to win back the trust of the medical profession after a series of controversial court cases that have negatively impacted the morale of staff.

In a submission submitted to today’s Williams Review, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow (RCPSG) argues that recent court cases have had “considerable impact” on members of the college, with trainees being affected in particular.

The college outlined court cases such as the trial of surgeon David Sellu for the controversial death of a patient in 2010. Examples such as the Sellu case, where the surgeon was imprisoned for 15 months over the death of James for gross negligence and manslaughter but later released on appeal, may have caused health professionals to lose “self-confidence such that they perform their duties at a lower standard resulting in suboptimal care.”

The report called for more clarity in the legal system around gross negligence manslaughter and negligence, adding: “Doctors are not lawyers. The legal terminology is unknown to most clinicians. If gross negligence manslaughter is to continue they need to understand what the term means. A clear dividing line needs to be defined with clear criteria.”

The report also criticises the regulator for issuing inconsistent advice given to junior doctors in examples of complex court cases, such as the fallout of the Dr Bawa-Garba case.

“Officers of the GMC were unable to give consistent advice to trainee doctors if they found themselves in a situation which was unsafe and could bring harm to patients. Its subsequent statements have been slow and did not deal with the obvious lack of confidence in the regulator,” it explained.

“The GMC has had difficulty in understanding that those regulated have lost confidence in their regulator which, in turn, has lost touch with issues of concern to the profession.”

Other main arguments made in the report include recommendations of a review into whether it is appropriate to apply gross negligence manslaughter as a criminal offence when delivering clinical care, greater accountability for NHS trusts where patient safety is compromised through systems failure, and the creation of a more transparent culture where mistakes are openly discussed and learned from.

“The GMC rightly or wrongly has lost credibility within the profession. It is funded by doctor’s subscriptions but it seems to fail to actively support the profession,” the royal college said.

“It should reflect and reconsider its response to recent events to improve medical education or practice. It needs to learn to become much more supportive towards doctors, not just after a criminal process, but also during the investigation of any complaints.”

Professor David Galloway, RCGPSG president, said: “It is vital that we seek to protect individual clinicians for bearing full responsibility in circumstances which are not only highly complex but may involve systematic challenges beyond their immediate control. It is disappointing that the GMC has yet to recognise that systemic issues must to be reviewed and taken into careful consideration in addition to an individual clinician’s performance.

“This is one of the reasons why confidence in the regulator is at an all-time low amongst the profession. The GMC must act now to regain its trust.”

Image Credit: Baona, iStock Images

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