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Investigating doctors with health concerns under ‘lack of competence’ grounds could exacerbate health issues

Post date: 15/06/2021 | Time to read article: 2 mins

The information within this article was correct at the time of publishing. Last updated 15/06/2021

If fitness to practise concerns which relate to a doctor’s health are investigated under ‘lack of competence’ grounds, it could carry unintended consequences for the doctor involved, according to Medical Protection.

The concerns were set out in Medical Protection’s response to the Department of Health and Social Care consultation: ‘Regulating healthcare professionals, protecting the public’. The consultation proposes that the GMC is provided with just two grounds for investigating doctors – ‘lack of competence’ and ‘misconduct’, with the currently separate ground for action relating to ‘health’ removed from the legislation. Concerns relating to a doctor’s health would instead be investigated under ‘lack of competence’ grounds.

Medical Protection says that categorising doctors with health concerns as having a ‘lack of competence’ could exacerbate their health issues. 

Dr Rob Hendry, Medical Director at Medical Protection, said: “We welcome many of the broader proposals in this consultation - some of which are very important to improving the way in which the GMC is able to operate and should proceed through parliament as quickly as possible.

“However, we have strong concerns about the proposal to not retain ‘health’ as a separate category under which relevant fitness to practise concerns could be investigated, and the potential unintended consequences that could arise from this.

“Removing ‘health’ grounds and instead categorising doctors with a health concern under ‘lack of competence’ grounds would be extremely demoralising and could exacerbate their health issue. It may also discourage doctors from seeking help at an earlier stage and this could endanger both patients and the doctor.

“Many doctors experience considerable stress and anguish when they are the subject of an investigation by the GMC, and this is tragically demonstrated by the number of doctors who die by suicide each year while under investigation. The GMC has made good progress in improving their processes and must continue to do everything possible to minimise the impact on the wellbeing of doctors under investigation, particularly those with a health concern at the outset. Investigating these doctors under ‘lack of competence’ grounds feels wholly inappropriate and we believe ‘health’ should be retained as a separate category.

“More broadly, we are concerned that even for those who do not have health concerns, the term ‘lack of competence’ is unnecessarily pejorative. There are variables which can affect a doctor’s performance in situations where competence may not be the primary concern – for example, systemic and organisational factors that are outside of the direct control of the clinician. We hope to see a more neutral phrase.”  

In its response to the DHCS consultation, Medical Protection has also called on the Government to ensure it delivers on its 2018 commitment to strip the GMC of its power to appeal fitness to practise decisions, and give the GMC greater discretion in deciding whether and how to investigate a fitness to practise concern to avoid thousands of doctors going through an unnecessary investigation each year.


For further information please contact Kate Tullett, Media Manager at MPS: E:  T:+44 (0)7515 298791.

About Medical Protection

Medical Protection is a trading name of The Medical Protection Society Limited (“MPS”). MPS is the world’s leading protection organisation for doctors, dentists and healthcare professionals. We protect and support the professional interests of almost 300,000 members around the world. Membership provides access to expert advice and support and can also provide, depending on the type of membership required, the right to request indemnity for any complaints or claims arising from professional practice.

Our in-house experts assist with the wide range of legal and ethical problems that arise from professional practice. This can include clinical negligence claims, complaints, medical and dental council inquiries, legal and ethical dilemmas, disciplinary procedures, inquests and fatal accident inquiries.

Our philosophy is to support safe practice in medicine and dentistry by helping to avert problems in the first place. We do this by promoting risk management through our workshops, E-learning, clinical risk assessments, publications, conferences, lectures and presentations.

MPS is not an insurance company. All the benefits of membership of MPS are discretionary as set out in the Memorandum and Articles of Association.

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