How long does it take to investigate a doctor? Good question. We referred Dr M to the General Medical Council (GMC) in May 2014. And were asked to respond promptish in a letter dated 19 June 2014.
I did so. Because we bereaved families do. There was a second request for information, again with a short deadline.
Jumping ahead to March 2015. March 2015. By this point, the GMC had got careless in their updates. I was chasing them up for info. A letter in response to a frosty phone call from me. [Hostile… toxic… you know the drill].
Nearly two years after LB’s death [he died] and 10 months into the investigation. What does ‘regret’ mean? Where is the attention, the urgency, the respect, the humanity?
In July 2015, thirteen months after making the referral. I was asked to provide a statement. And then sign and return the statement sharpish.
This is your statement and so please ensure you are fully satisfied with its contents before returning a signed and dated copy to me. I would be grateful if you could amend and return at your earliest convenience, so that the GMC may progress its investigation as promptly as possible.
I did as I was asked.
Fast (well very slowly) forward to December 2015.
A change of staff. And another expert report (the third by that stage). No explanation why.
15 February 2016. I chase them up again. What is happening? Ah. They’d just received the inquest files from the coroner. [LB’s inquest finished four months earlier. I paid a fiver and got a copy of the files within a week.] Four months… Another expert opinion was now necessary to consider the inquest evidence (taking 5-6 weeks apparently). Then Dr M would be written to formally and have 28 days to respond. So wrapping up in the spring then by my reckoning.
3 May 2016. I chased them up again. What is happening? The supplementary expert report was now expected by May 30th. The spring wrap up was not going to happen. I replied saying that it would be good if families were proactively updated because it was such a drawn out, painful process. I was told my comments would be passed “to our investigations enhancement team who are always looking for ideas and feedback about our investigations and the effect it has on the relatives of patients whilst we investigate”.
Clearly a bunch of comedians in the GMC. Still. Spontaneous updating kicked in at this point.
7 June 2016. The supplementary expert report was received, investigation complete and the legal team would draft the allegations to be put to Dr M who has 28 days to respond. More spontaneous contact a week or so later to let me know Dr M’s clock was ticking. 28 days to respond.
But Dr M doesn’t do obedience. We all saw that during her inquest performance. She asked for an extension and was granted an extra week.
14 September 2016. The Case Examiners want further expert opinion before they make their decision.
6 October 2016. The supplementary expert report is now with Dr M who has two weeks to comment before the case is referred back to the Case Examiners.
I called my friendly ‘caseowner’ today. The report is now in the hands of the Case Examiners (again) (a lay person and a medic). He was very apologetic for the delay. It’s not good enough I said. He said he’d do everything he can to make sure we get a decision as soon as possible. It shouldn’t take this long, I said. How can it take 30 months to investigate the conduct of one individual? No real answer. And no idea when we can expect a decision.
I’m a researcher. When we apply for funding we produce a gantt chart to show how the research process is broken down and the various milestones and end date. If something happens that means the end date can’t be reached (very rarely) we have to apply to the founder for an extension. And provide a clear rationale/explanation.
It strikes me, the GMC could up their investigation smarts in a similar way:
- Keep families regularly updated and provide contextual information (e.g., why supplementary expert reports have been requested.)
- Produce a gantt chart and give experts and other players clear deadlines.
- Share these timings with families and the doctor under investigation.
- Make sure the expert commits to the timings or find another expert who can.
- If an investigation takes more than a year, the exec should be informed and a full explanation for the delay provided.
It really ain’t rocket science.