Should doctors face strict sanctions?

doctor burnout 2

Doctors who make mistakes could face tougher penalties

The General Medical Council (GMC) is considering imposing harsher sanctions against doctors who make mistakes when treating their patients.

New plans could even force medics to apologise if they have previously refused to do so, with the medical regulator also wanting to be able to restrict the practice of those who have made mistakes in the past and since retrained – even if their work has improved.

The GMC, which regulates all doctors across the UK, have claimed that the intention of new schemes is to protect patients in the small number of cases where the public expects stronger action. It currently has the power to restrict practice and suspend or permanent remove doctors from a legal register that allows them to work. Although extensive measures are already in place, the GMC have revealed that they feel the system would benefit from stricter measures. For example, according to new proposals doctors who fail to raise concerns about a colleague’s ability to practise safely could face harsher penalties than currently.

Imposing guidelines

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson told BBC News “Doctors are among the most trusted professionals, and rightly so. In the vast majority of cases one-off clinical errors do not merit action by the GMC. But if we are to maintain that trust, in the small number of serious cases where doctors fail to listen to concerns they should be held to account for their actions.”

Clare Gerada, medical director of the NHS practitioner health programme, which supports doctors with mental health problems, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme she accepted the GMC had a “difficult job”. But she said she was “concerned” tougher sanctions in some cases could “traumatise and put in additional fear for the vast majority of doctors who go in every day to do a good job. It’s much better to create a culture where doctors can open up and own up to errors.”

BBC health correspondent Branwen Jeffreys said many doctors would feel tougher sanctions simply added another layer of regulation. “Doctors are feeling really quite beleaguered at the moment,” she added. Peter Walsh, from the charity Action Against Medical Accidents, said “These measures are a step in the right direction but they are not yet wide enough or comprehensive enough to make it a genuinely patient-centred process.” Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said “After the tragic failings at Mid Staffs hospital, we are taking steps to improve patient safety and ensure doctors are held to account for poor care.”