Medics riled by training reforms

July 21, 2006

Medical schools reacted with alarm this week to news that the General Medical Council could lose its regulatory role for undergraduate education, writes Claire Sanders.

In what is being seen as the biggest shake-up in medical regulation in 150 years, Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer, has proposed radical changes to how doctors are assessed and disciplined, many of which will mean a reduced role for the GMC.

The move is in response to criticisms of the GMC by Dame Janet Smith, chair of the inquiry into the Harold Shipman murders.

Katie Petty-Saphon, executive director of the Council of Heads of Medical Schools, said: "The GMC has an outstanding track record in safeguarding the standards of undergraduate medical education and stimulating curriculum reform. This success has been recognised internationally."

Sir Liam is proposing transferring these roles to the newly established Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board.

"This will enable the approach to curriculums, standards and inspection in medical education from undergraduate through to postgraduate to be addressed more seamlessly than at present," says his report, Good Doctors, Safer Patients .

Dr Petty-Saphon said: "The training board is a fledgling organisation that is only just getting to grips with major reform of speciality training. It simply lacks the experience and infrastructure to take on regulating undergraduate education, a task the GMC does extremely well."

Medical schools are calling for the role of the GMC to be extended to cover postgraduate training, rather than see a transfer in the other direction.

While many of the reforms were widely anticipated, the decision to remove undergraduate education from the GMC took medics by surprise.

Sir Graeme Catto, president of the GMC, said: "We had no idea this was on the cards. I have asked Sir Liam if he was dissatisfied in any way with our work and he said 'no'."

Dr Petty-Saphon added: "The proposed transfer would erode the essential autonomy provided by the current reporting structure." Under the proposals, the GMC will report to Parliament, whereas the board reports to the Department of Health.

The board was set up last year to oversee postgraduate medical education, including the second year of the foundation programme that all medical students undertake in hospitals.

The British Medical Association was also concerned about the proposals, which are out for consultation until November.

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