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New rules expected to come into force within months will allow more doctors who undergo an investigation by the UK General Medical Council to avoid a public hearing by acknowledging their shortcomings and agreeing to undergo retraining or restrict their practice.
Rules that the GMC was expected to approve as the BMJ went to press will extend “consensual disposal”—which previously applied only in cases of ill health or deficient performance—to all types of case.
The option will not apply to serious cases, those where there is a realistic prospect that the doctor would be struck off if the case went to a hearing of the fitness to practise panel. Nor will it apply if the facts are in dispute or if the doctor refuses to accept that his or her fitness to practise is impaired.
“We will be looking at predominantly clinical issues, usually where there is only one incident and the doctor shows insight,” said Paul Philip, the GMC's director of standards and fitness to practise.
Two case examiners, one lay and one medical, will decide whether a case is suitable for consensual disposal. If so, the doctor will be invited to agree to undertakings. All undertakings, except those including confidential information about the doctor's health, will be published on the GMC's website.
Case examiners will be obliged to “have regard” to representations from complainants—for instance, that the case should go to a public hearing—but complainants will not have a right to insist that a case go to a fitness to practise panel. The new rules are expected to be in operation by the end of 2007.