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Would stricter sanctions for medical malpractice lead to better care?

The General Medical Council (GMC) has today proposed stricter sanctions on doctors who make serious clinical errors that harm patients.

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22 August 2014 / by Jonathan White / legal-blog

The General Medical Council (GMC) has today proposed stricter sanctions on doctors who make serious clinical errors that harm patients.

The proposals state that if it can be proved that a doctor knew, or should have known, that they were causing serious harm, they could face restrictions on their right to practice. Whether or not the doctor has apologised for their mistakes will also be taken into consideration. Additionally, those who failed to flag concerns about the actions of colleagues could also face stricter sanctions. The proposals also look at whether or not doctors who have previously harmed patients, but went on to show improvements, could still face action.

The proposals form part of a GMC consultation that was launched today and runs until Friday 14 November. It will assess how the regulator should deal with serious complaints against doctors.

The overall aim of the consultation is to help “improve patient protection and public confidence in doctors” and ensure that doctors can “take steps to protect patients sooner”.

Supporters of these changes believe they have the potential to increase the confidence that patients and their families have in the care they receive. In theory, the proposals could also raise standards and increase honesty in the healthcare sector. There is a risk, however, that these proposals could be too draconian and could actually have a negative effect on the quality of care provided.

Whilst the aim of the proposals is patient-centric and seeks to champion high standards and trust, the idea has been greeted with caution by some. Understandably, GPs have stressed that they already hold patient safety as a priority of fundamental importance. Their concern, as communicated by the Royal College of General Practitioners, is that such changes could serve to increase criticism of doctors rather than champion patient care.

Proposals of this sort are always likely to attract conflicting opinions, but there is a very real risk that the debate loses sight of those who will be most affected by the changes – the patients.

At National Accident Helpline (NAH), our priority is - as ever - to ensure that individuals are able to access the quality of service and justice that they deserve. Any change to existing regulations should serve to improve care and empower patients and not drive a wedge between doctor and patient relationships. Whilst the GMC consultation will consider input from both doctors and patients, it is essential that patients’ wellbeing remains at the heart of all discussions.

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