As mentioned in the press round up in the latest issue of the E-Regulator, the General Medical Council (GMC) has launched a new service, the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) to take over its fitness to practice (FTP) hearings.

The new body, chaired by the independently appointed HHJ David Pearl, will be based in Manchester and directly accountable to Parliament, though still funded by the GMC.   David Pearl has pedigree for the role, previously holding a number of senior judicial positions including the President of the Care Standards Tribunal and Commissioner of the Judicial Appointments Commission.

The MPTS’ inception follows a consultation with Government in 2010 and the decision by the government at that time not to proceed with the establishment of the Office of the Health Professions Adjudicator (OHPA).   Whilst the GMC has always been at pains to emphasise that its adjudicatory function was independent, the operational separateness of the MPTS from the GMCs complaints handling and investigatory procedures will offer a visible distinction.  That is, not only will independence be maintained but it will be seen to be maintained.

Aside from this enhanced distinction, it is hoped that the MPTS will be responsible for managing cases more efficiently making the pre-hearing and hearing procedure shorter as well as making the FTP rules simpler and more flexible.  The GMC’s consultation document on how to achieve this is available for download and comment on here until 6 August 2012.

This commitment to overseeing a more streamlined process from start to finish will no doubt be of some comfort to doctors facing FTP allegations.  Along with the balm there is also the prospect of a body with more confidence and “teeth” for effective case management, with the introduction of legally qualified chairs and a power to make costs orders against either the doctor or the GMC where they have conducted themselves unreasonably. 

It remains to be seen whether the GMC will have a right of appeal against the MPTS’s decisions as this is currently not provided for but is arguably logical if the MPTS is truly separate.