Ten Ways In Which The General Medical Council (GMC) Has Failed Patients And Doctors

Dr Vernon Coleman

The General Medical Council (GMC) regulates British doctors. It decides whether or not they are fit to practise. And it lays down rules and guidelines detailing how they should practise and how they should treat their patients.

But if the GMC exists to protect the health of patients and the integrity and reputation of the medical profession (and, if it does not, then why does it exist?) it has failed both doctors and patients.

Here are just ten examples of its lamentable failure.

1. The GMC does nothing to limit the enormous control the drug companies have over medical education. The GMC has stood by while the medical profession has been taken over by an industry. As I wrote in The Medicine Men in 1976, `a profession which takes its instructions from an industry can no longer call itself a profession'.

2. The GMC allows doctors to over-prescribe drugs such as antibiotics and tranquillisers without publishing adequate guidelines and without punishing the thousands of doctors who recklessly over-prescribe. The over-prescribing of tranquillisers has led to the biggest addiction problem in Britain. The over-prescribing of antibiotics has contributed to the incidence of antibiotic resistant infections in hospitals.

3. The GMC does nothing to ensure that doctors only provide patients with the best possible advice. Last year a GP was reported to have `prescribed' meat for his patients. I made a formal complaint about him to the GMC on the grounds that meat is a recognised cause of cancer. (The scientific evidence for this is published in my book Food for Thought and on this website). Despite this evidence the GMC refused to take action against the GP.

4. The GMC has made no criticism of the way the NHS (the main source of health care in Britain) is mismanaged by politicians and administrators. There is little or no point in the GMC admonishing doctors for breaches of medical etiquette when the environment in which they work is dangerously and criminally inadequate. It is simply not good enough for the GMC to say that the medical environment in which doctors operate is not its concern. That is akin to a GP treating patients poisoned by a pollutant and doing nothing to eradicate the pollutant on the grounds that it isn't his responsibility. If the GMC is to be taken seriously it must tackle serious issues.

5. The GMC has done nothing to prevent doctors taking advantage of the existence of two different health systems (the NHS and private care) in order to make money. Thousands of British doctors work both for the NHS and for their own interests. Many of them deliberately make their NHS waiting lists long so that they can attract more private patients. It is improper and unethical for doctors who work for the NHS to offer private care to the same pool of patients. The GMC should interfere and stop this abuse.

6. The GMC should do more to prevent the abuse of minority groups of patients, such as those who are mentally ill and those who are elderly. Doctors who withhold treatment and allow patients to die just because they are old (a common practice in NHS hospitals) are not punished by the GMC. They should be. By refusing to acknowledge the existence of this problem, and by refusing to do anything about it, the GMC is ignoring the needs of patients and abandoning its own fundamental responsibility.

7. The GMC should punish doctors who work in hospitals which have higher than average levels of antibiotic resistant infection. Many British hospitals are dirty. This is why antibiotic resistant infections are higher in Britain than almost anywhere else in the world. Neither administrators nor nurses will take responsibility for this tragic state of affairs and so doctors must. The GMC should question and monitor doctors whose hospitals are dirty or which have a high incidence of MRSA infection, and should punish those doctors who do not insist that the appropriate changes are made in cleaning and nursing practices.

8. The GMC should make it clear that medical confidentiality is of primary importance to the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship. Any doctor who is guilty of a breach of medical confidentiality should be struck off the medical register. You can't be a little bit confidential any more than you can be a little bit pregnant. Doctors should be instructed not to share information with social workers, policemen, politicians, bureaucrats or anyone else who isn't directly concerned with the health of the patient concerned. Politicians and judges who attempt to overrule the principle of medical confidentiality should be advised that the GMC will not accept interference in this area.

9. The GMC should look carefully at some of the more bizarre medical fashions. For example, it is surely wrong that surgeons should remove the breasts of healthy women or should perform operations on patients suffering from nothing more than obesity caused by overeating. And the Government's enthusiasm for vaccination does not seem to be entirely supported by convincing scientific evidence. Currently fashionable vaccination programmes may do more harm than good. Doctors who advocate or promote vaccination programmes should be investigated by the GMC.

10. The GMC should make a clear statement about how medical research should be conducted. For example, the evidence clearly proves that reliance on animal experiments is one of the factors responsible for the current endemic of drug induced disease. One in six patients in hospital is there because they have been made ill by a doctor. This is unacceptable. The Department of Health has been quite unable to produce any evidence supporting the use of animal experiments in medical research. The GMC should make it clear that drugs should be properly tested before being made available for general prescribing and that animal testing has no place in the development process for new drugs. Doctors who support or advocate animal testing should be investigated by the GMC.

The GMC is a multi million pound bureaucracy with plush offices in central London. And that's about it. I believe it is self-serving and far too pro-establishment and that for all the good it does for patients and doctors it could be replaced by a single clerk equipped with a computer and a website. Patients and doctors deserve (and need) much better.

Vernon Coleman is a registered medical practitioner and his name is listed on the GMC's General Practitioner list. (For the record, he has never been admonished or criticised by the General Medical Council.) He is also Britain's leading medical author. His books, which include international bestsellers such as Bodypower, How To Stop Your Doctor Killing You and Food for Thought have sold over 2 million copies in the UK. They have been translated into 23 languages and are sold in over 50 countries.

Copyright Dr Vernon Coleman December 2006