The General Medical Council, which is supposed to protect patients from bad doctors, has admitted that it puts the rights of doctors at risk of losing their jobs and status before the rights of the public.
The admission, coming only days after the Kennedy report into the Bristol babies scandal had highlighted a "club culture" among doctors, will add to concern about self-regulation of the medical profession. That report had called for more emphasis on the rights of patients.
The GMC, whose website logo is "Protecting patients, guiding doctors" has previously come under severe criticism for not doing enough to protect patients and failing to prevent scandals such as the Bristol heart deaths, the Harold Shipman serial killings or the case of the disgraced gynaecologist Rodney Ledward. Reforms are under way to speed up a backlog of more than 200 complaints.
But patients complaining to the GMC have been told they have no rights under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is designed to guarantee people a fair hearing in front of an independent and impartial tribunal.
Many patients argue that the GMC contravenes Article 6 because it is members of the medical profession who sit in judgement on doctors or decide if a complaint is given a full hearing, the council admitted.
One such person who complained was Arpad Toth, whose five-year-old son, Wilfred, died in 1993 after a hypoglaecemic seizure. He wrote to the council last month alleging that his human rights were being infringed because of the way the GMC's preliminary proceedings committee was handling a complaint against his GP. The GP, Dr David Jarman, will appear before the professional conduct committee in December to answer Mr Toth's allegation that he failed to administer glucose to the boy or to take him to hospital. Dr Jarman denies the allegation. The GMC's preliminary proceedings committee has already refused to accept part of the complaint.
Mr Toth said that those patients who might not be allowed hearings at all would have no redress if they wanted to complain about doctors.
"The GMC has told me it does not believe the European Convention applies. A recent case under European law makes it clear that people with both executive and judicial functions should not sit in judgement on themselves. At the moment, the president of the GMC could intervene and stop a case at any time and there is nothing a patient could do about it."
He added: "My only objective is to make things fairer for people who have suffered pain and injury at the hands of bad doctors, who are unlikely to get a hearing at all."
Peter Swain, of the GMC's fitness to practise directorate, said "in a strictly legal sense" the council represented doctors and it was bound by Article 6 to protect the human rights of doctors, but not patients. He said it did not contravene the convention.
He said: "Our raison d'etre really is to protect patients and to make sure that doctors are fit to practise but legally it is doctors' human rights that we are here to safeguard under the European Convention in the event of any dispute."Reuse content