GMC plan for wider powers to discipline bad doctors blocked: Government pleads lack of parliamentary time for proposed Bill

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(First Edition)

PLANS for legislation to give the medical profession's regulators wider powers to discipline bad doctors have been blocked by the Government.

The General Medical Council drew up a blueprint last year for dealing with doctors who consistently perform poorly, but cannot be called to account. It sought a bill to amend the Medical Act 1983 in this autumn's legislative programme.

The measure was intended to answer critics who argue that only the most outrageously incompetent doctors get struck off the medical register, while those against whom less serious charges are laid escape censure and may continue in practice indefinitely.

The Bill would have brought in a second tier of sanction for 'seriously deficient performance', requiring the individuals concerned to undergo periods of retraining.

Members of the General Medical Council will be told today by Sir Robert Kilpatrick, its president, at the start of a two-day meeting in London that the Government was preparing to put the Bill on ice. In a report to the meeting, he says: 'The Secretary of State for Health (Virginia Bottomley) has recently indicated to me that it is very unlikely that the Government will be able to give priority in the parliamentary session beginning in November this year to a Bill to implement the council's proposals.'

The council should assume the legislation would not be put through until 1994, he said.

The Department of Health insisted the delay was due to shortage of parliamentary time, rather than any antipathy towards the measure among ministers.

However, Nigel Spearing, a Labour MP who tried to introduce a Bill five years ago enabling the GMC to place conditions on the registration of erring medical practioners, blamed opposition within the profession for the delay.