The General Medical Council may set new sanctions for medical schools falling short of quality standards.
The regulator for medical education, which recognises 32 medical schools in the UK, all run by universities, has been reviewing its approach to quality assurance since early 2012 and is expected to conclude towards the end of this year.
A progress report, discussed at the GMC’s December council meeting, says the regulator needs more powers to sanction medical schools.
It says the council is “understandably reluctant” to use its “nuclear option” of withdrawing or refusing recognition, something it has never done under the current system.
A full suite of sanctions are therefore needed, it adds, such as more frequent or intensive scrutiny, and formal warnings that schools are at risk of conditions being imposed or approval being withdrawn if problems are not resolved in a set time.
The report calls for information derived from the quality assurance process to be made available in a “clear, accessible and timely” way.
The data and inspection reports that are already available online should be made more accessible to the public and students, adds the report, which contrasts the GMC’s approach with the “user focus” of reports by the schools regulator Ofsted.
At the meeting, the council agreed to publish all “validated concerns” identified, together with the action plan of the schools involved.
Tony Weetman, pro vice-chancellor for medicine, dentistry and health at the University of Sheffield and chair of the Medical Schools Council, welcomed the GMC’s drive for transparency.
“We do see that as something that is new and we welcome it. And how can we not mention it such a short time after the Francis review has come out?” he said, referring to a damning report by Robert Francis QC, which earlier this month identified years of failures in care at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust that went unreported.
The GMC also plans to develop and pilot “medical education risk profiles” to identify concerns about schools and programmes. The report notes that such profiles, alongside increased transparency, would inevitably lead users to compare the performance of schools.
Professor Weetman said the GMC would need to be sure that there was consistency in comparisons, given the “massive undertaking” of inspections. “I’m sure that’s something they would address,” he added.
Commenting on the review, Melody Redman, joint deputy chair of the British Medical Association medical students committee, said it was important that medical schools offer courses of good quality, especially given rising expectations from students paying “extravagant” fees.