General Medical Council
The General Medical Council (GMC) registers and regulates doctors practising in the United Kingdom. It has the power to revoke or restrict a doctor's registration if it deems them unfit to practise. The current chair of the council is Professor Sir Peter Rubin.
The GMC was established by the Medical Act 1858.
The purpose of the GMC is to protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public by ensuring proper standards in the practice of medicine. The GMC controls entry to the List of Registered Medical Practitioners ('the medical register'), which a doctor must be on in order to practise medicine in the UK legally. It defines the principles and values which underpin good medical practice, to which all doctors practising in the UK must adhere. The GMC also regulates and sets the standards for medical schools in the UK, and liaises with other nations' medical and university regulatory bodies over medical schools overseas, leading to some qualifications being mutually recognised.
Activities and powers
The GMC's priority is ensuring patient safety. Because trust in medical professionals is significant in ensuring people seek treatment, the GMC has regarded maintaining public confidence in the profession as crucial. The GMC controls who can practise as a doctor, sets the principles and values that doctors are expected to follow, and can take action where doctors have not met those standards. Its powers are established in law, principally by the Medical Act 1983.
The GMC is funded by annual fees required from those wishing to remain registered and fees for examinations. Fees for registration have risen significantly in the last few years: 2007 fees = £290, 2008 fees = £390, 2009 fees = £410, 2010 fees = £420, 2011 fees = £420, with a 50% discount for doctors earning under £26,000.
Registering doctors to practise in the UK
Doctors must be on the GMC’s List of Registered Medical Practitioners in order to practise medicine in the UK. Registration with the GMC confers a number of privileges and duties. The most common types of GMC registration are provisional and full. Provisional registration is granted to those who have completed medical school and enter their first year (F1) of medical training; this may be converted into full registration upon satisfactory completion of the first year of postgraduate training ("house jobs"). In the past, a third type of registration ("limited registration") was granted to foreign graduates who had completed the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board examination but required a period of work in the UK before their registration could be converted to "full". Limited registration was abolished on 19 October 2007 and now international medical graduates can apply for provisional or full registration depending on their level of experience – they still have to meet the GMC’s requirement for knowledge and skills and for English language.
Setting standards of good medical practice
The GMC sets standards of professional and ethical conduct that doctors in the UK are required to follow. The main guidance that the GMC provides for doctors is called Good Medical Practice. This outlines the standard of professional conduct that the public expects from its doctors and provides principles that underpin the GMC’s fitness to practise decisions. Originally written in 1995, a revised edition came into force in November 2006 following a two-year consultation process. The content of Good Medical Practice has been changed with a major focus on working in partnership with patients, one of the new duties for doctors outlined in the revised document. The GMC also provides additional guidance for doctors on specific ethical topics, such as treating patients under the age of 18, end of life care, and conflicts of interest.
The GMC regulates medical education and training in the United Kingdom. It runs 'quality assurance' programmes for UK medical schools and postgraduate deaneries to ensure that the necessary standards and outcomes are achieved.
In February 2008 the then Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, agreed with recommendations of the Tooke Report which advised that the Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board should be assimilated into the GMC. Whilst recognising the achievements made by PMETB, Professor John Tooke concluded that regulation needed to be combined into one body; that there should be one organisation that looked after what he called 'the continuum of medical education', from the moment someone chooses a career in medicine until the point that they retire. The merger, which took effect on 1 April 2010, was welcomed by both PMETB and the GMC.
Concerns about doctors
A registered medical practitioner may be referred to the GMC if there are doubts about their fitness to practise in the UK. These are divided into concerns about health and other concerns about ability or behaviour. In the past these issues were dealt with separately and differently, but now pass through a single fitness to practise process. The GMC has powers to issue advice or warnings to doctors, accept undertakings from them, or refer them to a fitness to practise panel. The GMC’s fitness to practise panels can accept undertakings from a doctor, issue warnings, impose conditions on a doctor’s practise, suspend a doctor, or erase them from the medical register ('struck off'). The GMC is concerned with ensuring that doctors are safe to practise. Its role is not, for example, to fine doctors or to compensate patients following problems. The outcomes of hearings are made available on the GMC website.
Since 2001, the GMC has itself become answerable to the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (CHRE), which oversees GMC activity and may challenge fitness to practise verdicts which it considers too lenient.
Following recent legislation the GMC is implementing a comprehensive and wide-ranging reform of the organisation and its role. This is a result of considerable social change, but also highly publicised scandal cases such as the Shipman affair
One of the recent changes is the shift of emphasis from simple registration to revalidation of doctors, more similar to the periodic process common in American states, in which the professional is expected to prove his or her professional development and skills. Revalidation is scheduled to start in 2012.
Self-regulation and complaints handling
Due to its nature the GMC is positioned between the medical profession and the public, and has drawn criticism from both sides - from professionals for being overly harsh in fitness to practise decisions and from the public for being too mild. Calls have been made to abolish self-regulation by the profession, but a 2000 vote by doctors was 80% in favour of continued self-regulation, although many demanded reforms, one of which became revalidation.
Concern has also resulted from several studies which have shown that GMC handling of complaints appear to differ depending on race or "overseas qualification", but it has been suggested that this might be due to indirect factors.
The mortality and morbidity amongst doctors going through these procedures has been open to question. In 2003/4 9 of 212 doctors undergoing Fitness to Practice died. Overall, the suicide rate of people undergoing a GMC's Fitness To Practise Panel is very high, fuelling doubts about their sentences being proportionate and fair.
The GMC was most heavily criticised by Dame Janet Smith as part of her inquiry into the issues arising from the case of Dr Harold Shipman. "Expediency," says Dame Janet, "replaced principle." Dame Janet maintained that the GMC failed to deal properly with Fitness to Practise (FTP) cases, particularly involving established and respected doctors.
In response to the Shipman report, Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, published a report titled Good doctors, safer patients, which appeared in 2006. Donaldson echoes concerns about GMC FTP procedures and other functions of the Council. In his view, complaints are dealt with in a haphazard manner, the council causes distress to doctors over trivial complaints while tolerating poor practice in other cases. It accuses the Council of being "secretive, tolerant of sub-standard practice and dominated by the professional interest, rather than that of the patient". Former President of the General Medical Council, Sir Donald Irvine, called for the current Council to be disbanded and re-formed with new members.
Other bodies regulating healthcare professionals
- Health Professions Council (regulates other health professions in the UK)
- Nursing and Midwifery Council (regulates nurses and midwives)
- General Optical Council
- General Dental Council
- General Chiropractic Council
- General Osteopathic Council
- General Pharmaceutical Council
- Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland
- United Kingdom Accreditation Forum
Many of the above bodies, together with the GMC, are represented on the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence.
Other countries, including New Zealand, South Africa and Singapore, have a central regulator similar to the GMC. In the USA and Australia, each state has its own regulatory board for doctors. In Germany, each state has an Ärztekammer with lawful authority to regulate the medical profession, there is no federal level authority for the Federal Republic of Germany. Nevertheless, the Bundesärztekammer, a voluntary association of private law, was founded to support the professions' interests. The Irish Medical Council acts as regulator in the Republic of Ireland.
- ^ GMC website – The role of the GMC
- ^ GMC website – fees
- ^ GMC website – press release – Fees cut for newly qualified doctors
- ^ GMC website – responsibilities and privileges of registered doctors
- ^ GMC website – information for international medical graduates
- ^ Good Medical Practice - GMC website.
- ^ GMC website – ethical guidance
- ^ GMC website – education
- ^ Tooke Report website
- ^ Tooke Report Recommendation 30, p. 145
- ^ GMC website – press release – New era for medical education and training
- ^ Transitional arrangements - FAQ on GMC website.
- ^ GMC website – Fitness to Practise panels
- ^ GMC Website – Complaints and the role of the GMC
- ^ GMC website – Decisions
- ^ CHRE website – Final fitness to practise decisions
- ^ GMC website – Revalidation date set for 2012
- ^ Celia Hall. British Doctors pass historic Vote of No Confidence in the General Medical Council (GMC. Daily Telegraph, 2000-06-30. Accessed 2006-09-30.
- ^ Simon Bowers. GMC cleared of race bias charge. The Guardian, 2002-08-02. Accessed 2006-09-21.
- ^ Health Review Group report, May 2005, p. 50
- ^ Shipman inquiry. Safeguarding patients: lessons from the past—proposals for the future. 5th report, 2004. Online version.
- ^ Donaldson, L. Good doctors, safer patients: Proposals to strengthen the system to assure and improve the performance of doctors and to protect the safety of patients; a report by the Chief Medical Officer. Department of Health, 2006-07-14. Accessed 2006-09-17.
- ^ The Royal Society of Medicine. Current GMC should be disbanded, says former President. Accessed 2006-09-16.