Senior doctors face annual checks

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Hospital consultants could face the sack under an initiative designed to weed out incompetent doctors who could endanger their patients.

Hospital consultants could face the sack under an initiative designed to weed out incompetent doctors who could endanger their patients.

Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, is to announce that senior doctors are to be subjected to annual checks on the quality of their treatment. And he will further announce that the Government is to end the system under which dangerous consultants can be suspended for years on full pay.

The initiative follows a series of scandals that have hit the NHS, including the heart baby deaths at Bristol Royal Infirmary, and women injured by Dr Rodney Ledward who called himself the "fastest gynaecologist in the west".

Mr Milburn is appalled by the lack of a tougher regime to cover the medical profession and will announce today that he will introduce legislation to carry out the recommendations of the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Liam Donaldson. The four-point plan will include: hospital doctors to undergo an annual appraisal of the quality of their clinical care; their right of appeal to the Secretary of State will be scrapped; failing doctors will be sent to assessment centres. Consultants being investigated on personal grounds, such as fraud or sexual assault, or failing to meet their contracts to turn up for ward rounds or attend clinics will be subject for the first time to the same disciplinary process as everybody else in the health service.

The new assessment centres will tell health authorities if doctors need retraining. But they will also advise the health authorities that doctors should be sacked, if their standards are so low that they cannot be put right by training.

The tougher regime will also apply to family doctors, who are currently covered by a laborious professional disciplinary system. The action will leave the medical profession's own system of discipline run by the General Medical Council in place, but it will have less relevance.

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