In the latest development surrounding manslaughter in healthcare, the government has agreed to remove the GMC’s right to appeal decisions reached by the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS). This change follows ongoing campaigning by MPS, and Dr Rob Hendry, medical director at Medical Protection, says this is great news for the profession
After the shock and anger that followed Dr Hadiza Bawa-Garba’s removal from the medical register earlier this year, there has finally been some welcome news for the profession, with the GMC losing its right to appeal decisions made by the MPTS.
This was something Medical Protection strongly called for in our submissions to the Professor Sir Norman Williams review into gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare. In fact, ever since the MPTS was created we have argued against the GMC’s power to appeal its decisions – it’s neither in the best interests of the profession nor even necessary, as the Professional Standards Authority is already able to appeal decisions made by the MPTS.
Keeping the GMC and MPTS as separate, independent entities also means that doctors appearing before the MPTS should be able to do so with greater confidence in that separation and independence.
Protecting honesty and openness
Another welcome recommendation by Sir Norman – and, again, one that we strongly pushed for – is the exclusion of reflective material from the information that the GMC can require from registrants in a fitness to practise investigation. In the spirit of honesty and openness in the profession, particularly when mistakes occur, doctors need to feel completely confident about their personal reflections – not paralysed by the fear that this honesty and openness will be used against them.
We had originally called for written reflections with the sole purpose of education and training to be given special, legally privileged status. This includes reflections in all education and training documents, such as e-portfolios and all annual appraisals, training forms and the Annual Review of Competence Progression. So there is still a lot more to be done here, if this is not to be a wasted opportunity to truly provide doctors with complete reassurance.
Other proposals put forward by MPS that have been adopted include the need to establish a specialist remote unit for English police forces, to pool their knowledge and experiences of dealing with gross negligence manslaughter cases involving healthcare professionals, as well as the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges needing to work with medical defence organisations to improve the standards of expert witness provision in criminal cases.
What needs to happen next
While these latest developments are very encouraging for the profession, there is still much more to do. I have previously written about how England and Wales can learn a great deal from the Scottish approach to the application of gross negligence manslaughter in healthcare.
In Scotland, the comparable offence is culpable homicide. While the legal and judicial systems in these countries are different and it is not possible to transpose proceedings for one case from one jurisdiction into another, there is a real question of whether many gross negligence manslaughter cases in England and Wales would have made it to court in Scotland in the first place.
So while this week has seen some very welcome news, it is just one important step in a longer-running issue. With the right conversations now happening, and some common sense finally starting to emerge, the time is ripe for complete reform. Medical Protection is continuing to fight for your interests and we will continue to provide updates when we have them.