The GDC is consulting on a proposed change to the way they seek observations from complainants in fitness to practise cases. The DDU has responded on behalf of members.
We welcome the proposals in principle and agree the FTP process should be streamlined to improve efficiency and reduce stress for our members. More information is needed about the guidance caseworkers will receive to help them make decisions.
Our submission, in full, can be found below.
Do you support the proposed change to the GDC's case observations process?
Do you have any other comments?
- In principle we welcome the proposal to streamline the overall time taken to complete the case observation process.
- In the majority of cases, when informants comment on registrants’ comments, their commentary largely consists of repeating the issues raised in the original complaint. This serves no purpose for the case examiners and extends the process of written observations.
- When informants fail to respond in a timely manner, or at all, to a GDC request to review the registrant’s comments there is equally delay to the whole process.
- On seeing a further iteration of the original complaint, registrants often feel compelled to submit additional observations, which require discussion with their solicitor to reassure them that sending more observations will not materially add to the initial submission. This may extend any delay because any additional comments have to be sent again to the informant, risking a never-ending cycle of comments.
- The proposed change introduces a discretion for the caseworker to decide whether it would be appropriate to seek an informant’s additional comments. While we welcome the spirit in which this change is suggested, even if the GDC sends registrants’ observations to the informant and doesn’t request further observations, many informants will see this as an invitation to comment and will do so. If this happens, as we believe it will in many cases, this would mean registrants will then need to be shown the informant’s additional comments, and may choose to respond, which would perpetuate the problem of delay that the proposed change seeks to address.
- DDU supports the proposed change, but we believe its success in simplifying and speeding up the procedure will be dependent on how often caseworkers decide it is appropriate to forward registrants’ comments to the informant.
- On this point, we note the GDC intends to update its internal guidance to clarify the situations in which it would be appropriate to seek informants’ observations. We trust the GDC will share this guidance with stakeholders in draft and give us an opportunity to make observations. In the interests of transparency, we hope we will also be provided with copies of the final guidance so we can ensure we understand the circumstances in which the GDC will invite comments from informants and we can properly advise our members.
- Our observations that follow go beyond those specifically requested within the consultation paper, but we believe the changes proposed engage the wider issue of whether the registrant’s observations should be shared with the informant automatically. We believe this issue is directly relevant to the proposed change and must also be addressed as part of this consultation.
- The consultation paper identifies sexually motivated or concerned allegations as examples of situations where a caseworker would consider it appropriate to seek an informant’s observations. However, we believe, because of the serious risk of contamination these are situations where a registrant’s comments must not be shared with the informant. In responding to allegations where it may be a matter of one person’s word against another’s, a registrant’s response may set out detail which, if shared with the informant, would risk contaminating the informant’s account. These types of cases have a high risk of being referred to a conduct hearing where it is vital the PCC hears first-hand accounts from both the registrant and the informant. This is crucial to a fair hearing.
- In respect of the registrant’s submissions to the Case examiners at the GMC, Rule 7 (1) (d) of The General Medical Council (Fitness to Practise) Rules Order of Council 2004 states that the Registrar shall write to the practitioner:
- ‘Informing him that representations made by him will be disclosed, where appropriate, to the maker of the allegation, if any, for comment’.
- The keywords are ‘where appropriate’. A registrant’s Rule 7 response is not, as a matter of course, sent to the informant. We believe this should be the default position at the GDC.
- While there will be many cases where registrants want their Rule 4 response shared with the informant, we believe the default position should be that registrants must indicate in their response they want this to happen. If registrants do not do so, the caseworker will need to decide whether it is appropriate or necessary to send a registrant’s observations to the informant, being mindful to ensure there is no risk of contaminating witness evidence given at any subsequent hearing. The guidance provided for caseworkers should assist them to make such decisions and, as we have indicated above, we hope DDU and other relevant stakeholders will be consulted about draft guidance and receive copies of the guidance when finalised.
This guidance was correct at publication 31/10/2017. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.