Do doctors have to attend their MPTS hearings, and what are the consequences for doctors who chose not to do so?
The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) run hearings for doctors whose fitness to practise is called into question by the General Medical Council (GMC). The MPTS operates separately and independently of the investigatory role of the GMC.
In practice, this means that the GMC will refer cases to the MPTS following the conclusion of its investigation and in cases where a doctor’s fitness to practise may be impaired to a degree warranting action on their registration.
Do doctors have to attend their MPTS hearings?
The GMC and/or the MPTS cannot compel a doctor to attend or participate in a hearing. However, doctors should note that the GMC “expects” doctors to “attend any hearings held by the GMC or MPTS” and it is often in the interest of doctors to do so for a multitude of reason. Principle amongst these are the opportunity to respond to allegations and to present, and challenge, evidence.
A doctor’s absence or unwillingness to engage will ultimately be to their detriment.
Can a hearing proceed in my absence?
GMC Rule 31 states that ‘where the practitioner is neither present nor represented at a hearing, the Committee or Tribunal may nevertheless proceed to consider and determine the allegation if they are satisfied that all reasonable efforts have been made to serve the practitioner with notice of the hearing in accordance with these Rules’.
The Court of Appeal previously considered the approach to be adopted by a professional regulator (i.e. GMC) when a registrant (i.e. doctor) does not participate in a disciplinary hearing ‘convened to examine their behaviour’. The Court clarified that the onus is on the doctor to take steps to attend the hearing and arrange representation if they wish to do so, and that ‘although attendance by the practitioner is of prime importance, it cannot be determinative’ due to the adverse impact on the effective and efficient running of hearings.
In essence, therefore, a hearing can proceed in the absence of a doctor where the MPTS is satisfied that all reasonable efforts have been made to serve the doctor with notice of the hearing.
Doctors who chose not to attend their hearing or to engage are more likely to face harsher sanctions, including erasure. Whilst, in most cases, there will be a right of appeal for doctors, the courts have taken a dim view of doctors who did not attend their hearing or engaged in the process.
GMC appeals are not hearings afresh, but reviews of decisions. This means that the High Court will examine the MPTS decision to ensure it was fair and correct processes were followed. The examination will consider, as part of the overall case, engagement (or otherwise). In general terms, doctors who did not engagement or attend will be worse off. The High Court has commented:
“I fear that in many cases, registered professionals are not made fully aware of the dangers of not attending. In a regulatory jurisdiction, where issues of insight and remediation are very important, and where the conduct complained of is clearly very serious, non-attendance of the hearing can come close to professional suicide.” – Kimmance v GMC
“In a case of obvious dishonesty, not attending the hearing amounts virtually to courting removal. We are getting a disturbingly high number of cases in which appeals are brought against removals from the statutory registers, imposed at hearings the appellant failed to attend. Given the high number of unrepresented parties in disciplinary proceedings of this kind (of which this case is not one), I think it would be a good idea for the disciplinary bodies to forewarn the defendant not just that a hearing may proceed in his or her absence, but also that the consequences of non-attendance are likely to be severely prejudicial.” – Burrows v GPhC
Approach with Caution
This being said, doctors must approach engagement and attendance with great care. The entire process is complex, drawn out and legalistic. Doctors must seek legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity.
It is important for doctors to understand that obtaining the type of information and evidence that will support a case, relating to relevant contextual factors, is likely to be a long and potentially complex process and early legal advice is important.
Kings View Barristers
With over 30 years combined experience, Kings View Chambers have established itself as one of the best when it comes to fitness to practise defence. We fully understand that fitness to practise defence is not merely about processes and procedures. We also understand that we are working with people who are anxious and worried about what investigations might mean for them, their professions and the reputations.
We are proud to be rated ‘excellent’ by our clients. Our commitment to client care is genuine in both seeking the very best outcomes for our clients, but also ensuring we do what we can to support them through the process.
Disclaimer: This article is for guidance purposes only. Kings View Chambers accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever for any action taken, or not taken, in relation to this article. You should seek the appropriate legal advice having regard to your own particular circumstances.