Exclusive: Struck off

Doctors are being removed from the medical register at triple the rate of 20 years ago

9th January 2019

The number of doctors being struck off the medical register has more than tripled in 20 years.

In 2018, 76 doctors were removed from the medical register, compared with 18 in 1998, according to official data seen by The Overtake.

Doctors might be struck off for a variety of reasons, including substandard treatment, indecent behaviour and drug abuse. Health can also be a factor, though doctors are not struck off through poor health alone.

The most common category for strike-offs was “probity”, which is about integrity, with 683 cases falling into that category since 1998. Types of allegations that fall under “probity” are indecent behaviour, failure to tell another employer [about a previous incident] and financial deception.

With 637 cases, the next most common reason for being struck-off was dishonesty with patients and colleagues and/or lying in an investigation.

Data: GMC

Part of the reason for the rise is that the complaints process changed significantly in 2004 following the Shipman Inquiry — the investigation into how prolific serial killer Harold Shipman was able to murder an estimated 250 people while working as a GP.

The process is now more stringent — for example, the GMC will now always hold a tribunal when doctors go to prison and call for doctors to be struck off in cases of sexual offence.

In 2008, tribunals switched from using the criminal standard of proof (beyond reasonable doubt) to the civil standard (balance of probability) for hearings, which is likely to be responsible for another increase in doctors being removed from the register.

Erasure is rare and only considered in cases where the public can only be protected by removing the doctor from the register

Another reason more doctors are being struck off now compared with the Nineties is that more investigations have been opened because complaints from the public and other medical professionals have risen in that time, which is thought be down to the public having higher standards than ever before and feeling more empowered to make a complaint.

Doctors can be struck off for a range of reasons like indecent behaviour, lying to patients and financial deception

While the figure has increased since the Nineties, it still represents less than 1% of doctors.

Anna Rowland, an assistant director for fitness to practice at the General Medical Council (GMC), told The Overtake the vast majority of doctors were “caring, committed professionals”.

“But, like every workforce, a small number fall seriously below the standard expected and put patients or public confidence at risk.  

“Erasure is rare and only considered in cases where the public can only be protected by removing the doctor from the register.

“Safety is our top priority and where we believe a doctor may pose a threat to the public we won’t hesitate to take the action needed to provide protection.”

9th January 2019