The Handling of Complaints by the GMC a study of decision-making and outcomes


This new report finds no evidence of discrimination or racial bias in the handling of complaints against doctors by the General Medical Council (GMC). However, there are still questions about the extent to which the disciplinary procedures of the GMC are consistent, transparent and fair to all doctors and all patients. The report is based on a two-year wide-ranging investigation and notes the many changes and improvements in process made by the GMC since earlier research by PSI published in 1996. It makes 18 recommendations for changes in the present GMC procedures for dealing with complaints, which the GMC has pledged to address urgently.

The report examines the reasons for the disproportionate appearance of overseas qualified doctors at the professional conduct committee of the GMC. One of the main reasons is that they are much more likely to be complained about by public bodies than by members of the public, and the GMC screeners regard complaints from public bodies as much more serious, regardless of country of qualification. However, the research also found evidence of marked differences in outcome between different GMC committees at later stages of the disciplinary procedures, and found this lack of consistency difficult to account for in the absence of a clear formal record of reasons for committee decisions.

The main recommendations of the report highlight the need for a commonly understood working definition of ‘serious professional misconduct’; efficiency and speed in dealing with complaints which pose a risk to the public; clear protocols defining the types of cases which come within the jurisdiction of the GMC; a formal record of the reasons for all decisions; racial awarenes training for all staff and committee members; discussions with public bodies on the reasons why they are relatively more likely to complain to the GMC about overseas qualified doctors; and greater liaison between the GMC, the NHS and the Ombudsman so that complaints are made to the most appropriate body and dealt with speedily.

Allen, I. (2000) The Handling of Complaints by the GMC: a study of decision-making and outcomes, Policy Studies Institute.