Wednesday, May 13, 2009

System of pursuing allegations against doctors is failing

The Guardian reports that GMC statistics obtained by the Liberal Democrats show that the number of all doctors suspended in the UK has risen from 216 in 2004 to 388 last year. This is despite guidelines being introduced in 2003 called Maintaining Higher Professional Standards in the Modern NHS (MHPS), which made it more difficult for doctors to be suspended. So it looks as though the momentum to suspend and discipline doctors has not been curbed by MHPS. But without it, numbers of suspensions are likely to have been even higher.

I am someone who has been suspended twice - it's actually now called exclusion. Not many doctors get back from one suspension. According to a report from the National Audit Office in 2003, only 40% get back to work. They found the average length of suspension to be 47 weeks. This average figure is likely to have come down with MHPS - which would suggest the number of suspensions has increased.

I have gone public about my first suspension eg. BMJ letter and Times Higher Education Supplement article. I am not yet in a position to go public about my second exclusion.

What I can say is that MHPS does not place enough emphasis on informal resolution. Almost certainly the number of formal investigations is too many. This could be prevented by people talking about whatever the problem is and solving it. It may not be a disciplinary problem at all.

There is inevitably conflict between management and clinicians, but they should work together. Management should not misuse its disciplinary power to deal with what it doesn't want to hear from clinicians. As a letter in this week's BMJ says, leadership is not management.

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