GMC sets up standalone tribunal to hear disciplinary cases

A new tribunal service for UK doctors has been set up to improve public confidence in disciplinary actions against medical professionals.

Concerns that conflicts could arise due to the General Medical Council (GMC) dual role as investigator and prosecutor at fitness to practice hearings has led the body to set up a separate Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS).  

The new chairman is David Pearl, a law professor, former circuit judge and senior judicial figure with the Immigration Appeal Tribunal, Care Standards Tribunal, Judicial Appointments Commission and the Judicial Studies Board.

The panel will be accountable to Parliament. Pearl will be responsible for appointing, training, appraising and mentoring panel members. 

Pearl said the significance of MPTS is that it will be “entirely separate and independent” from the investigation process and will help cut down on “major wastage of time” with new case management procedures.

He said it was important for the public and the medical profession to perceive disciplinary decisions as “impartial” and “of the highest quality”.

The GMC covers 300,000 registered doctors in the UK. If a doctor is investigated for allegations of misconduct, poor performance or impairment, the MPTS panel will then hear the case for and against and come to a verdict.

Doctors can represent themselves in the tribunal, instruct a union lawyer or external firm, who can also instruct barristers. The GMC has a team of practising barristers to call on.

Pearl added: “A proposal under consideration, and one which I agree with, is to give the GMC the right to appeal a decision by the panel. Currently a doctor can lodge an appeal, but the GMC can’t.

“We all go to doctors. Members of the pubic need to be assured that if a doctor is referred to the GMC and there are important and difficult decisions to make, that it’s done by a fully independent body.”

The establishment of the MPTS follows a Government White Paper in 2007 and further Government consultation in 2010, which recommended a greater separation between the GMC’s investigation function and the adjudication of cases.