GMC defends election of doctor who was struck off for racism

The General Medical Council is defending the election to its governing body of a doctor who was struck off for neglect and racial abuse.

Dr Jennifer Colman served a two-year ban after being found guilty of gross professional misconduct 13 years ago. She was reinstated on appeal and has now become one of the 104 members on the GMC's ruling council. Yesterday a spokeswoman said Dr Colman had "served her time" for the offences. But the spokeswoman added that the GMC was keen to broaden the number of doctors who voted in its elections, and to reform the way candidates were selected.

After being sponsored by six other doctors, Dr Colman was elected on a 23 per cent turn-out of the 200,000 doctors registered, to fill a vacancy left by the death of a member. The spokeswoman said: "She was perfectly entitled to stand. Any doctor on the register is entitled to stand as a candidate. We're aware that people may find that something which is difficult to understand and we've announced that we are reviewing the way our elections are run, as part of a general reviewof our governance and ourconstitution."

Under pressure from the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn, the GMC has also said "urgent changes" in its rules are needed to strengthen the presumption that doctors are struck off for life, except in rare cases.

Dr Colman was disbarred for allegedly calling one colleague a "coon", one a "poof" and another a "self-opinionated little prick". She also refused to see a patient who had suffered a heart attack, and threatened to stop treating another patient with chest pains because she was breathing too loudly.

Dr Colman, who now works as a medical barrister in Dereham, Norfolk, was readmitted after arguing on appeal that her behaviour was caused by two head injuries.

The GMC feels it is under great pressure to reform its electoral procedures to restore public confidence after a number of scandals, including the case of the multiple killer Dr Harold Shipman. Despite resistance from many traditional-minded GPs, it is likely to scrap its existing elections procedures, which use the single-transferable vote.