Frank Dobson, Secretary of State for Health, said he was prepared to "make life mean life" in the most serious cases, such as sexual offences, to prevent doctors returning to practice. Changes in legislation would end the scandal under which doctors struck off for the most serious offences have a right to apply for reinstatement after 10 months.
The doctors' own disciplinary body, the General Medical Council, will discuss the need to impose life bans on doctors at a meeting in November. Mr Dobson said: "If the GMC approach the Government and say they would like a change in the law to make it clear life means life, we will oblige."
The GMC is facing pressure for its powers to be strengthened after a number of cases in which doctors have returned to continue practising. The problem will be the subject of a special Cook Report for Carlton Television tonight.
A GMC spokesman said yesterday: "There is a public perception that a doctor who has been found guilty of a sex offence - something like paedophilia - should not have a right to be brought back on to the register. The majority of doctors either don't apply or don't get restored to the register but we are under a duty to consider these cases. If the discussion in the GMC moved to having a life ban for certain offences, that is not just a debate for the GMC. It is a debate for Parliament and for society generally."
Recent cases that caused concern include a haematology specialist found guilty of stealing NHS blood and who was sentenced to three years. He is now practising at a Crewe hospital after being suspended by the GMC for 18 months.
And a doctor suspended for nine months for an adulterous affair with a patient has been reinstated, in spite of separate charges in a fatal motoring accident. Since 1988, 165 doctors have been struck off, of whom 30 have been restored.
r A doctor who stole NHS prescription pads which were sold on to drug addicts was struck off the medical register. The GMC's professional-conduct committee described Nicholas Grobler as a man "who cannot be trusted".
Grobler, of Gobowen, Oswestry, Shropshire, was appearing before a disciplinary hearing of the committee after admitting six charges of theft and deception in May last year.
While working as a GP in west London he dishonestly claimed links to the Saudi royal family to obtain a bank overdraft and bought a pounds 44,000 Rolls-Royce on hire purchase after pretending to own a house where he was renting a room.
Grobler, 63, was jailed for three years and six months at Knightsbridge Crown Court. He served 21 months, including time before the trial, and is now in Saudi Arabia.Reuse content