The General Medical Council (GMC) will make initial contact with a doctor by phone if they need to investigate a concern the medical regulator has announced.

The GMC said the change “is part of a series of improvements by the GMC to take a more compassionate approach and reduce the impact of investigations.”

The pilot, carried out earlier this year, found doctors felt more supported when initial phone calls were made.

To reduce anxiety for doctors, the person dealing with the investigation will first email the doctor to arrange a phone call then introduce themselves as the doctor’s contact, explain what the immediate next steps will be and signpost them to relevant support services. This will be immediately followed up by written correspondence.

A bespoke communication plan is created for the doctor during the call, factoring in their communication preferences and assessing whether they may be vulnerable.

The GMC has also written to doctors to reassure them that if a concern is raised about a doctor’s practice, it will always consider the circumstances and any relevant context involved when deciding whether it needs to take it forward.

The medical regulator recognises that doctors work in complex environments, and when things go wrong it is often linked to systems pressures or other factors, rather than a doctor’s individual ability to provide safe care. GMC data shows that of all the complaints they received between 2012 and 2021, only seven doctors have been removed from the medical register for purely clinical concerns. This is out of the approximate 370,000 who had a licence to practise during that period.

Professor Dame Carrie MacEwen, Chair of the GMC said:

‘Reducing the impact of our investigations on doctors is of the utmost importance to us. The vast majority of GMC investigations conclude without action, but we know that the impact of receiving a complaint can be great for doctors.

‘The personal and compassionate approach of having a contact who can explain the investigation process over the phone and be a port of call for any queries has been favoured by doctors and support organisations alike.’

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