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GMC launches new tribunal service for UK doctors

The General Medical Council (GMC) has launched a new tribunal service for doctors in the biggest shake-up of fitness to practise hearings since they were first established in 1858.

Posted: 15 June 2012

The Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) is a new impartial adjudication function for doctors and a key part of the GMC’s fitness to practise reforms.

Based in a dedicated centre in Manchester, the MPTS is part of the GMC but operationally separate from the regulator’s complaint handling, investigation and case presentation. It is also accountable to Parliament.

From today (11 June), it will take over all fitness to practise cases relating to registered doctors from the GMC and make decisions on what action is needed to protect patients.

The MPTS is led by His Honour David Pearl, an independently appointed Chair, who has held a range of senior judicial roles including the President of the Care Standards Tribunal and Commissioner of the Judicial Appointments Commission.

David Pearl is responsible for appointing, training, appraising and mentoring MPTS panellists and legal assessors.

MPTS panels can, in the most serious cases, remove or suspend a doctor from the medical register or place restrictions on their practise.

It can also take early action to ensure patient safety by considering cases before a full fitness to practise hearing, where it may be appropriate to place restrictions on a doctor’s practise immediately or suspend their practise while investigations proceed.

This provides an important safeguard should allegations against the doctor be considered to present a risk to the public.

Parliament approved the establishment of the MPTS in 2011 after the government’s decision not to proceed with the establishment of the Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator (OHPA) in 2010.

Niall Dickson, the Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said:

‘The launch of the MPTS is the biggest change to doctors’ fitness to practise hearings for more than 150 years.

‘It represents a key part of our reforms and delivers a clear separation between investigations and the decisions made about a doctor’s fitness to practise.

‘Although panels already make their decisions independently, it is important that their autonomy is clear and that the oversight of their work is quite separate from our investigatory activity. We hope that the MPTS will strengthen professional and public confidence that our hearings are impartial, fair and transparent – the fact that the service is led by a judicial figure who has a direct line to Parliament should provide that assurance.’

His Honour David Pearl, the Chair of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service, said:

‘Establishing the MPTS assures those who come into our processes that we are independent of investigations into doctors’ fitness to practise, that the appointment of panellists for hearings is separate and that all decisions are made completely impartially.

‘One of my earliest priorities is to make improvements to the way that panellists are trained and performance managed through regular appraisal and quality assurance, which will bolster the quality of decision making.’

The work of the MPTS will be overseen by a committee, made up of the MPTS Chair and two further members, one medical and one lay, who are drawn from a pool of experienced panellists.

In 2011, the GMC made a commitment to reform its fitness to practise procedures to create a modern and more efficient adjudication service.

These reforms include: the introduction of digital recording of hearings; enabling panel chairs to be involved in pre-hearing case management; the introduction of a power to make costs orders in cases where either the registrant or the GMC has been unreasonable in the conduct of proceedings and the introduction of legally qualified chairs.

The GMC is seeking parliamentary approval for the right to appeal where it does not agree with the decision of a particular panel, which is expected to be effective in 2013.

For more information on the MPTS, all current fitness to practise cases and recent decisions visit www.mpts-uk.org.

11 June 2012