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Medical Act 1983 (Amendment)

Volume 227: debated on Wednesday 30 June 1993

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

4.21 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Medical Act 1983 to permit the Professional Conduct Committee of the General Medical Council to take action in specified circumstances in respect of conduct of a medical practitioner which they judge to be unacceptable professional conduct; and for connected purposes.
In simple language, the Bill would give greater optional and discretionary powers to the professional conduct committee of the General Medical Council than those that it currently possesses. I want to make it absolutely clear from the start that this is not an anti-doctor Bill or an anti-GMC Bill. It would give greater protection to the medical profession, and enhance whatever reputation the General Medical Council has at the moment.

The Bill further assumes that there is merit in, and that there will be a continuation of, self-regulation as a means of regulating the profession. That is considered by many to be preferable to any other alternative.

I am sure that the whole House agrees that only a very small number of doctors need to be involved in the sometimes controversial disciplinary procedures of the General Medical Council, and that the overwhelming proportion of the profession deserves the thanks and full respect of the public, whose protection is the advertised prime function of the GMC.

The Bill arises from two cases in my constituency, which I believe have revealed a lacuna in the aforementioned Act that gave the GMC its statutory powers.

Many hon. Members have had similar difficulties. I first introduced this Bill in the 1984–85 Session, and I introduced it in four subsequent Sessions. This is the sixth occasion on which it has been before the House. On 3 March 1987, I introduced a Bill under the ten-minute rule, as reported at column 757 of Hansard. This is an across-the-Floor motion, which has nothing whatever to do with other political matters.

I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) is in his place. He referred to a specific constituency case on 24 July 1985. On 25 March 1986, at column 842 of Hansard, he told the House about a distressing case in his constituency of the daughter of a well-known constituent of his, who had returned home from playing badminton. She was a healthy person aged 22. She had complained of pains and was given an injection for a strained ligament. Unfortunately, diagnosis did not take place, and the young lady died as a result of acute septicemia about three or four days later.

I have another sponsor in my hon. Friend the Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith). He is known to us as "Mr." but in the medical world that title denotes a consultant neuro-surgeon. He is a former member of the General Medical Council. In the past, this Bill has also been sponsored by Dr. Maurice Miller, a former Member of Parliament well known to many here.

The British Medical Association has passed a resolution not to oppose the Bill, and I know of no Member of Parliament, other than those who for a time have sat on the Treasury Bench in a certain capacity, who oppose it. I rather suspect that, when the Bill has been opposed over the years—perhaps by a Treasury representative on a Friday afternoon—that was because the GMC was not happy with the amendment of the Medical Act 1983, as it has other proposals which it believes would deal with the matter more effectively. I do not think that its view is correct, and I shall explain why.

The Bill, which the GMC has been preparing over the past two or three years, after extensive discussion inside the medical profession, deals with the related but not specific case of the performance of medical practitioners in respect of their general profession, and it might be able to take on board some of the complaints that reach the GMC. I put it to you, Madam Speaker, and to the House, that that is parallel to the disciplinary procedure and is not connected directly with it, certainly under current statutes.

To understand the Bill, I must explain what I regard as the lacuna within it, which I think was unintentional when it was passed in 1983. Under the Medical Act 1983, the only charge that can be made by the professional conduct committee against a medical practitioner is one of serious professional misconduct. The complaint reaches the PPC only after three stages of sifting. When it reaches the committee, those hearings are in public.

However, the problem is that, when the GMC conducts its own case against a practitioner, it says that the conduct must be related to certain forms of action. It says that the first consideration of the PPC is to determine whether or not the alleged misconduct has been found to be correct and proven. If the matters are found proven, the PPC has a further stage in its consideration: given that the allegation is proven, does it amount to serious professional misconduct? Only if it decides that it amounts to serious professional misconduct has it any penalties or sanctions of any sort other than the publicity available.

I am not a great one for penalties. I believe that remedies are sometimes better. The least remedy available to the GMC where serious professional misconduct is found is conditional registration or a reprimand. In effect, a conditional registration says, "Carry on doctor, but…" Certain actions are then specified for the doctor, such as to attend courses, not to perform certain activities, and to have conversations with the chairman of his local medical committee from time to time. Those actions can be varied case by case.

However, if the GMC does not find that the charges proved amount to serious professional misconduct, it cannot do anything, even if it finds that there has been professional misconduct as such or, as in the case of my late young constituent Alfie Turner in 1982, if it finds that there has been unacceptable professional conduct. The council can say that that is the case, but it has no power, because there is no relevant power in the Medical Act 1983 for the GMC to act.

That lack of power, where there is manifest professional incompetence which is seen and open, and where the charges found have been proved correct, causes public disquiet and disquiet inside the profession.

I have discussed the matter with the GMC and its presidents over many years. I informed the current president of the GMC that I was going to move my Bill today for the sixth time. He sent me a letter which refers to a letter which he sent me on 29 September, in which he says that it would not be timely to accept my Bill because it would not
"be in the long-term public interest for the introduction of these procedures to be delayed"—
that is, while a new comprehensive Bill is being considered—
"or in any way hampered by the introduction of an alternative amending the Medical Act."
However, my Bill is not an alternative. It will remedy a manifest and continuing defect in our legislation.

I wrote to the president of the GMC on 10 June, and I have a reply dated 29 June, which I received in full this morning and in a faxed form yesterday. I understand that a copy was sent to the Department of Health. I want to quote that letter because it is very important. The president states:
"I … should like to make it clear at the outset that the GMC's Professional Conduct Committee"—

Order. I am reluctant to interrupt the hon. Gentleman and I have been trying to catch his eye, but his time has run out.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Nigel Spearing, Sir Anthony Grant and Mr. Sam Galbraith.

Medical Act 1983 (Amendment)

Mr. Nigel Spearing accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Medical Act 1983 to permit the Professional Conduct Committee of the General Medical Council to take action in specified circumstances in respect of conduct of a medical practitioner which they judge to be unacceptable professional conduct; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 2 July, and to be printed. [Bill 229.]