Referrals to the Medical Council’s fitness to practise (FTP) committee increased by 90 per cent in 2022, with 76 referrals compared to 40 in 2021. This reflected “the increase in serious cases” coming before the preliminary proceedings committee (PPC), according to the Council’s annual report for 2022.
There was also a “significant increase” in the Council’s applications to the High Court for immediate temporary suspension of a doctor’s practice, based on risk to public safety. Twelve matters were referred to the Court (compared with six in 2021), with six resulting in suspensions and five in undertakings to the Court in lieu of suspension and one application was pending decision.
Overall, there were 301 complaints about doctors received by the Council in 2022, compared with 233 in 2021 (when there were 40 referrals to the FTP committee). In the last pre-pandemic year of 2019, a record 431 complaints were received, and 47 complaints were referred to the FTP committee during that year.
Currently, the PPC assesses all complaints and determines whether they meet the threshold of referral to the FTP committee. Under a new legislative provision, which has yet to be commenced, the Council Chief Executive Officer (CEO) will have the authority to investigate complaints in the first instance before sending an investigation report to the PPC for decision.
Speaking to the Medical Independent at the recent launch of the Council’s latest ethical guide, CEO Mr Leo Kearns said it was not yet clear why there was a rise in referrals to the FTP committee in 2022.
“We think it could be because, during Covid, we had to particularly prioritise cases that were more serious, and then there was probably a delay on issues as well. So, we think it is possibly related to that.”
He said the Council would be monitoring data to establish whether it was a trend.