If that fateful GMC missive appears

What should you do if you get a letter from the GMC? Partner Tania Francis shares ten tips.

  1. Open it! We see cases where doctors have ignored correspondence from the GMC, and it’s not a good idea. It might not be bad news, it might be something really simple, like a reminder about paying your annual registration fee (ARF).
  2. That leads me on to the next point. Put your ARF onto direct debit, especially if you are moving around a lot. If your reminder doesn’t get to you, for whatever reason, you may be removed from the register for non-payment, which may lead to you working as a doctor without being registered, which is illegal.
  3. Keep your contact details up to date with the GMC. It may seem counterintuitive, but you are required to do so and if the GMC can’t get hold of you and this delays you receiving any correspondence from them, that will only make things worse. If you are moving around a lot, give them your email address so that they can contact you easily if you forget to update your address.
  4. The letter might be about something less simple than paying your ARF – revalidation for example. You need to keep on top of your revalidation submission date, and keep up-to-date with your annual appraisals. You can lose your licence to practise for failure to revalidate. You may have strong views about the revalidation system – but so do the GMC!
  5. The letter might be about a complaint. If so, the first letter you will receive is usually at a very early stage, and will simply notify you of the complaint and the fact that the GMC are investigating it. Please resist the temptation to i) ignore it and hope it will go away; or ii) write to the GMC in great detail explaining why the complaint has no merit. Instead, pick up the phone to your defence organisation/indemnifier/insurer, tell them about it, and ask for their advice. It may be a condition of your cover to notify them and in any event, they will be able to advise you about whether or not you should respond. In the vast majority of cases you will be advised not to respond, unless the answer to the complaint is extremely straightforward (i.e. the complaint is not about you and you have never met the patient). It is usually better to wait and let the GMC undertake their initial investigation – they may decide to take it no further, and by writing go them at this stage, you may actually make things worse for yourself (believe me – we see it all the time. You won’t have the perspective to realise this because it’s about you.)
  6. Make sure your indemnity/insurance covers GMC complaints, and keep up to date with your renewal premiums. Put them on direct debit too! There is only one thing worse that facing a GMC complaint, and that is having to do it without any help or having to pay privately for legal advice.
  7. Discuss any complaints (GMC or otherwise) in your annual appraisal and with any mentor/senior colleague you may have access to. Be willing to consider that things may have gone wrong, or at least sub-optimally. Even if the complaint comes to nothing, you can still learn from it. If you can identify any areas of potential weakness, put together a plan to address these, stick to it, and review it regularly. Keep records of what you have done, and of any meetings with a mentor or equivalent.
  8. If you get a letter from the GMC informing you that you have been referred to an Interim Orders Tribunal (IOT), act quickly. These hearings are listed at short notice and it is very difficult indeed to get them postponed, so you will need to get advice and representation for the date of that hearing. The IOT have the power to suspend you or place conditions on your registration pending the outcome of an investigation, so again – don’t ignore it. Once they have made an order, it’s difficult and time consuming to get it lifted or eased.
  9. Remember that GMC complaints are not that common so don’t live in fear. In 2020 there were 337,717 doctors on the register and the GMC considered 8,468 fitness to practise enquiries. Of these 1,117 were promoted to investigation. In over half of these cases, the case was concluded with no adverse outcome, and only 276 cases went to a hearing. [Source: GMC Fitness to practice statistics 2020 https://www.gmc-uk.org/-/media/documents/fitness-to-practise-statistics-report-2020_pdf-87198195.pdf]
  10. Look after yourself. A GMC complaint is horribly distressing to deal with. It will knock your confidence, personally and clinically. Discuss it with others, seek support, both professionally and personally. See your GP. Tell your partner about it (you’d be surprised how many people don’t). You can also get support from the BMA’s Doctor support service, aimed specifically at doctors going through GMC fitness to practise procedures. You don’t have to be a BMA member. (Email: doctorsupportservice@bma.org.uk)

Tania Francis is a a partner at Hempsons. She is also a qualified doctor. She advises doctors, dentists and other healthcare practitioners and providers, specialising in regulatory law and clinical negligence litigation, including cases where there are related criminal proceedings.

First published in Independent Practitioner Today in November 2021