Official data indicates that doctors who face a hearing after a GMC investigation are more likely to face suspension or erasure than at any point over the past decade.
This statistic can be attributed to reforms which where intended to ensure that clinicians were never forced to go through the process without good reason.
Indeed, over 70% of doctors who faced procedures after a GMC investigation during the 2016 calendar year were ultimately suspended or erased from the register.
This represents the highest observed proportion in the last 10 years, and indicates that few doctors are being forced to go through the process unnecessarily.
GMC leaders claim that doctors facing complaints should be reassured by the figures, but it must also be stated that still 30% of the procedures turned out to be unwarranted.
Nonetheless, this represents a small proportion compared to just a few years ago, with 54% of such hearings having resulted in action in 2012; meaning about 46% were superfluous.
GMC data demonstrates that the number of investigations on doctors has halved since 2013, falling to 1,400 in 2016 from a peak of over 3,000 just three years previously.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey noted that referrals can be extremely challenging for doctors involved, and should only be implemented when absolutely necessary.
“Any referral to the GMC can be very stressful for the doctors involved. Doctors in this situation need to know as soon as possible that the likelihood of investigation is less than previously and that the changes made to processes are reducing unnecessary hearings. This might provide some reassurance in very anxiety provoking situations.”
The GMC has stated publicly that several actions have been undertaken in order to ensure that investigations and referrals only occur when it is essential.
Provisional enquiries have been utilised on a wider basis ahead of full investigations, while the GMC is also collaborating closely with responsible officers to ensure cases can be dealt with at a local level.
Currently being piloted is an approach of being more discerning in cases where doctors have made solitary mistakes, which the GMC believes will lead to few investigations being launched.
Vautrey outlined some of the other legislative measures currently being taken by the General Medical Council.
“We are also routinely inviting more doctors to meet with us at the end of an investigation to obtain more information before deciding whether a hearing is necessary. Although we need to understand better the drivers behind the changes in investigation volumes, we do feel that these changes have been significant in driving investigation numbers down over recent years.”
The GMC leader concluded his statement by outlining the position of the organisation.
“But we remain of the view that legislative change could give us more freedom to decide which cases to investigate, and to speed up the process for concluding investigations especially where cases could and should be closed more quickly.”
In its position as an overseer of the medical system, the GMC has frequently suggested that the current system of regulating doctors is outdated and unfit for purpose.