Fitness to practise investigations were paused last March during the first COVID-19 wave and were resumed in July, while GP revalidation was halted around the same time before starting up again last autumn.
Both activities were paused to free up vital time for clinicians and ease the burden on doctors during the pandemic, with the understanding that doctors would remain under pressure for months.
But the GMC has confirmed that ongoing fitness to practise procedures and GP revalidation will continue in the second wave of the pandemic – although it said the context in which a doctor is working will be ‘fully taken into account’.
Revalidation will continue, allowing for ‘maximum local flexibility’ and the option for rescheduling to meet local needs, according to the regulator – and the slimmed-down version of appraisal introduced last October will continue.
The regulator said it would continue to progress open fitness to practise cases ‘where possible’, acknowledging that some would progress ‘more slowly or not at all’ if doctors and employers were unable to assist.
The GMC has also confirmed it will pause the disclosure of new cases unless the individual is already aware – either from self-referral or via a police case – or where it needed to make an interim order to protect patient safety.
Updated guidance on prioritising workload from the RCGP and BMA this month recommened that GP practices across the UK should stop all or most non-essential work given the current intensity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
GP practices are delivering the lion’s share of COVID-19 vaccinations, while continuing to run COVID-19 ‘hot hubs’ and offering normal services to patients.
GMC chair Dame Clare Marx said in a letter to the profession on 11 January: ‘Doctors have always made difficult decisions under pressure. COVID-19 presents many with even greater challenges. The escalating pandemic means some doctors having to make such judgments, day after day, shift after shift. This unrelenting pressure can exact a heavy toll.
‘I know how anxious some doctors are about the way in which actions and decisions taken in this environment may be reviewed. I want to reassure them that, should any concern be raised, the context in which a doctor is working will be fully taken into account.’
She added: ‘While coronavirus is an unprecedented challenge, I feel great pride in the wonderful response of the medical profession and indeed all health care workers.’
A opinion poll by GPonline last August found that around two thirds of GPs believe scrapping revalidation and CQC inspections would make no difference to patient safety.