Medical students reject call to scrap GMC

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Medical students rejected a call to replace the General Medical Council with an independent body to regulate the profession in the wake of controversy surrounding the case of serial killer Harold Shipman.

Around 100 students from across the UK opposed the motion at the Medical Students' Conference at St Andrews University.

The motion also included a recommendation that the regulatory body should be constituted to ensure a majority of its members came from non-medical backgrounds.

A spokeswoman for the British Medical Association, whose students' committee will consider the result of the vote and other motions passed at the conference, said: "The students decided that it was more important to make the GMC work better. They felt that self-regulation should be made to work more effectively.

"And they acknowledged that the GMC was attempting to put its house in order to help restore public confidence in the medical profession.

"What the students are really doing is flagging up what the doctors of tomorrow think."

Shipman, who worked as a GP in Hyde, Greater Manchester, was jailed for life earlier this year for murdering 15 of his elderly women patients.

The 54-year-old doctor gave the women with injections of morphine.

Following his trial, the GMC announced a radical review of the way in which doctors are regulated and disciplined. The body was subjected to widespread criticism in connection with the case.

President of the GMC, Sir Donald Irvine, said the council had agreed a review of fitness to practise procedures and the whole structure and culture of the medical profession's regulatory body.

The review of disciplinary procedures will report back in the autumn andsweeping changes are expected.

Shipman's case exposed loopholes in the rules governing how doctors are disciplined and struck off.

The GMC had no powers to suspend Shipman while he was being investigated by police.

The GMC also came under fire when it was revealed that Shipman had a previous conviction for misuse of drugs but neither he nor the GMC were under any obligation to tell his employers.

Today's conference also voted in favour of introducing random alcohol and drugs tests for doctors and other health professionals in their workplaces.

The BMA spokeswoman said: "It was felt to be important that the public should be able to use health services in the knowledge that the staff who treat them are in a fit state to do that.

"It would also allow earlier detection of any problems individuals had with drugs or alcohol and let other professionals help them deal with their difficulties at an early stage."

One of the motions listed was that TV medical drama ER should be made compulsory viewing to assist revision.

But the spokeswoman said the conference closed before it could be discussed.

Joseph Footitt, conference chairman and a medical student from London, said: "At the start of the new millennium we will be looking forward to how medicine might be shaped in the future.

"Potential changes to medical practice and the delivery of health care are to some extent unknown however we can expect the impact of technology to be vast.

"Whatever the future in medicine holds, it will present exciting new challenges to our roles as doctors."