Revalidation of Doctors - Health Committee Contents

1  Introduction

1.  The General Medical Council (GMC) undertook a consultation on its proposals for the revalidation of doctors in early 2010. This consultation was the latest round of a discussion of this subject which has now been going on for over ten years. We therefore decided to undertake a brief inquiry into the reasons for slow progress, the measures that were being proposed and the reaction to them.

2.  The Committee undertook this review in the knowledge that the GMC is a statutory body which reports to the Privy Council, and so it is not directly accountable to the Secretary of State for Health.

3.  As Niall Dickson said in evidence:

You described us as self-regulatory. We are accountable to you, actually. We are not accountable to the Secretary of State, but we are accountable to the UK Parliament.[2]

4.  Sir Donald Irvine argued that

To ensure its continuing effectiveness, the GMC needs to be held to account for its management of medical regulation and medical education. It needs the discipline and indeed the support that can flow from public accountability, a fact the GMC itself recognised and sought when in 2006 it responded to the [Chief Medical Officer's] report on revalidation.[3]

He said that the existing accountability arrangements through the Privy Council were "insufficient and lacking transparency" and that there was a need for regular select committee hearings to review the GMC's work.[4]

5.  The Committee does not regard this as an arcane matter; it goes to the heart of the status of the medical profession as an independent profession which is responsible for setting and applying its own standards. The GMC was originally established in 1858 as the statutory regulator of an independent profession in which each practitioner was granted professional freedom but expected to recognise that with professional freedom comes professional responsibility. The GMC is the guardian of the standards which are implicit in that compact.

6.  Even its most ardent advocate is compelled to recognise that the GMC has a mixed record in the discharge of that responsibility. However, the Committee supports the principle of an independent profession which accepts responsibility for setting and applying standards for its own members, provided it is not interpreted as a freedom from accountability.

7.  The current legislation makes the GMC accountable to the Privy Council; in the absence of a mechanism which makes this accountability effective we intend to exercise this function ourselves, on behalf of Parliament.

8.  In the course of our inquiry we held two oral evidence sessions, one with the GMC and one with the British Medical Association and the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, and received written submissions from the Department of Health and 36 other witnesses. We are grateful to all of those who contributed.

2   Q 50 Back

3   Ev w6 Back

4   ibid, para 23 Back

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Prepared 8 February 2011