The General Medical Council (GMC) describes its role as a charity as follows:
“The GMC is the independent regulator of the UK’s 250,000 doctors.
Our job is to protect, promote and maintain the health and safety of the public by ensuring proper standards in the practice of medicine.
We do this by managing entry to the medical register and setting the educational standards for all UK doctors through medical schools and postgraduate education and training. We also determine the principles and values that underpin good medical practice and we take firm but fair action where those standards have not been met. This role and the powers to do it are given to us by Parliament through the 1983 Medical Act.”
We are not here to protect the medical profession – their interests are protected by others. Our job is to protect patients. We are independent of government and the profession and accountable to Parliament.”
In September 2013, as a direct result of the work Dr Liz Miller (co-founder of the Doctors Support Network and MIND Mental Health Champion) and Dr Rita Pal of Doctors for Justice, the charity commissioned an Independent Review by Sarndrah Horsfall, former interim chief executive of the National Patient Safety Agency, into the deaths of 96 doctors who had died while being investigated under the GMC’s Fitness to Practice Procedures and to “consider whether [the GMC’s] current process for reviewing each of these cases can be improved.”
The deaths occurred over a ten-year period from 2004 and while it is still not clear how many of these cases were suicides, a report from the regulator’s chief executive Niall Dickson acknowledged that there were cases where a doctor had taken their own life.
In 2008, Dr Miller was reported in the Guardian as saying: “Even now, after a decade? There is a complete lack of understanding. Their procedures are inhuman. It’s like going through a tribunal.” She offers a hypothetical situation. “Maybe you once had a touch of depression. Someone falls out with you, and reports you [to the GMC]. It has to investigate and you end up with a situation where you are being interrogated by two GMC psychiatrists. It’s a bit like dunking witches, because if you survive the process you are obviously quite mad because you have no contact with what’s happening to you. And if you sink …”.
Further Freedom of Information (FoI) requests in relation to the names and ethnicities of doctors who have died were submitted to the GMC by Dr Helen Cooke in 2012 and the correspondence makes for the usual reading in terms of legalese and the highly-developed capabilities of the English to throw all manner of procedural seaweed into the propellors of those asking simple questions, thereby wearing them down through attrition.
Publication of the Review has been delayed.