Unfortunately, doctors in the UK should treat investigations by the GMC as an ‘occupational hazard’. If you are a doctor working in the UK, you should expect to be the subject of a GMC complaint at some point in your career, however most doctors who approach us for legal advice and support have little insight into this process and are ill-prepared for this extremely stressful eventuality.
It is worth pointing out though that, of course, not all complaints to the GMC will result in a full, formal investigation. Nonetheless, GMC investigations are utterly traumatic experiences regardless of the final outcome.
The trauma experienced by a doctor facing a full GMC investigation cannot be overstated – and the phrase ‘second victim’ is very apt here. Research published by the GMC in February 2021 found that “many doctors perceive GMC investigations to be adversarial and bias towards patients.”
A GMC investigation is a very dark cloud that looms large over the whole of your personal and professional life for a substantial period of time, even if your fitness to practise is eventually found not to be impaired and no sanctions are imposed. The GMC acknowledge that its investigation process can take up to 12 months to conclude. It can take a further 10 – 12 months if the case is referred to the MPTS.
It is important that you understand what to expect if your GMC investigation leads to an MPTS tribunal hearing, and why the tribunal process is universally described as ‘daunting’.
You will need to prepare for a trial in all but name – the hearing will be complex, formal and adversarial; the panel will be headed by a legally qualified chair; the process will be broad-ranging and lengthy. The GMC is on record as saying that it wants to move to a less ‘legalistic’ and ‘adversarial’ Fitness to Practise system, but that this is not possible without change in the law.
A recent change is the introduction of Legally Qualified Chairs (LQC) to lead the 3-person tribunal panel – announced by MPTS in a 2017 press release tellingly entitled “Lawyers appointed to strengthen hearing process”. Each LQC is chosen from a pool of very experienced legal practitioners – defined as “a barrister, chartered legal executive or solicitor in England and Wales; an advocate or solicitor in Scotland; or a member of the Bar of Northern Ireland or solicitor of the Supreme Court of Northern Ireland”.
In addition, the GMC will always be represented by a highly trained barrister with relevant experience, who will have the ability to cross-examine you during the hearing. And the panel themselves will also be able to ask you questions.
The GMC publishes numerous detailed guides for doctors who are brave enough to go it alone. Whilst it is technically possible to make it through a GMC investigation and MPTS hearing without legal representation, doctors must very carefully consider the implications of going alone.
A 2019 study peer-reviewed study published in the journal BMC Medicine found that doctors who lacked legal representation tended to receive more serious outcomes.
The study results showed clearly that both “non-attendance and lack of legal representation” were consistently related to more serious outcomes.”
A similar 2015 study revealed that – of the two outcomes, suspension or erasure – doctors with legal representation at hearings were significantly more likely to merely be suspended (72%), rather than struck off (28%). In contrast, 69% of self-represented doctors were struck off.
Kings View has been advising and representing doctors for many years, and we know that despite the best efforts of healthcare professionals, some things do go wrong. Through our experience, we know that the circumstances that leads to things going wrong are never straightforward.
It is a well-established fact that healthcare professionals who seek legal advice and representation at an early stage in any fitness to practise process, generally, receive better outcomes and lesser sanctions, if any. We can advise on the right strategy to take and represent you before a fitness to practise hearing.
Kings View are public access barristers, meaning that you can instruct us directly without having the additional expense of hiring a solicitor first (so we are generally at least one third cheaper).