GMC Investigations

Stopping a GMC Investigation

There are a number of circumstances in which a GMC Investigation can be stopped. The GMC can themselves stop the investigation as part of their provisional enquiry stage of the investigation. This happens very frequently when it becomes apparent that a doctor’s fitness to practise is not impaired and evidence is readily brought to light to show that is the case.

The GMC can pause an investigation for six months where a doctor is unwell. Their guidance sets the bar rather high and includes examples of a doctor being an inpatient, serious mental ill health, serious physical ill health, significant life stressors such as death of a close relative or information the doctor is suicidal.

  • There may be circumstances where it can be argued that the GMC either opened the entire investigation or there were allegations in the investigation that were opened in error.
  • The Rules of Procedure allow a doctor to apply to the GMC to review a decision where it may be materially flawed or there is new information which may lead have led to a different decision.
  • The review must also be necessary to prevent an injustice to a doctor, in the public interest or for the protection of the public.
  • Only in exceptional circumstances would a review take place two years after a decision has been taken.
  • These can be challenged in writing to the GMC explaining the error and inviting them to close those aspects of the investigation.
  • It is quite common that allegations are amended or withdrawn during the process and certainly at MPTS hearings.

In a relatively recent civil case bringing a claim for declaratory relief against the GMC under Part 8 of the Civil Procedure Rules a party was successful in arguing that the GMC had founded an allegation on an improper basis and the High Court made a declaration in the doctor’s favour to that effect.

As a public body, the GMC’s decisions can be subject to judicial review. This is the process by which certain decisions taken by the GMC can be challenged in the High Court by bringing a claim against the GMC.

Decisions taken by the GMC including decisions to refer allegations by a GMC Registrar (Rule 4) investigate and send a (Rule 7) letter to a doctor and decisions (under Rule 8) to issue a warning, refer an allegation to a committee or the MPTS are all based in statute and so potentially reviewable.

Judicial review is not to be taken lightly and the threshold for establishing judicial review is high. Broadly, a decision is reviewable if it was taken illegally and outside their power; and/or irrationally to such a degree it is highly unreasonable or they took irrelevant matters into account; and/or there was procedural unfairness; and/or a doctor had a legitimate expectation as to the way the GMC would act.

There are procedural issues to overcome and a time limit to bring an action is as soon as practicable and at most within 3 months from the date the decision was taken.

Where a complaint and investigation is based on a doctor being given a custodial sentence there is a presumption of referral to the MPTS. In those cases it is hard to envisage circumstances when such an investigation could be stopped.

Similarly certain categories of case hold a presumption that fitness to practise is impaired. The categories include sexual assault or indecency, improper relationships with patients, violence, dishonesty, unlawful discrimination, knowingly practising without a licence and gross negligence or reckless practice risking patient safety.

The presumption is rebuttable and there may be procedural issues to challenge nonetheless but it is clearly more difficult to stop such investigations.