Headlines: February 21st, 2005

Following criticism from the Public Accounts Committee that delayed discipline cases cost the NHS 40 million pounds annually, new procedures are to be introduced for doctors and dentists. Currently the target for resolving cases is 32 weeks, but further delay frequently results from Consultants making an appeal to the Health Secretary and this can extend to a further eight months for the case to be resolved. In future minor cases will be resolved faster and exceptional cases will be guaranteed the close attention needed to safeguard patients while offering fair treatment to doctors and dentists. The new target for handling disciplinary cases is 13 weeks.The new procedures end the distinction between personal and professional misconduct. As a consequence, NHS doctors and dentists will be disciplined for misconduct under the same procedures as any other NHS staff member. In addition the right for consultants on the verge of being sacked to appeal to the Health Secretary will be abolished.

It is also proposed that in capability cases NHS Trusts will make more use of the National Clinical Assessment Authority and provide a period of assessment and rehabilitation. Only if help is refused or fails will NHS doctors and dentists go before a panel set up to hear capability cases.

The new timetable provides for 5 weeks for an investigation, 2 weeks for the doctor or dentist to respond to findings, 2 weeks for the case manager to decide and 4 weeks for a panel hearing, where necessary. The doctor or dentist may then appeal within 5 weeks and the appeal panel must be held within a further 5 weeks.