GDC Displays Confusion Over Registrant Deaths

GDC Displays Confusion Over Registrant Deaths

The GDC’s problems with Fitness to Practice (FtP) are well known. With serious shortcomings recognised for some years by registrants, indemnifiers and even its own regulator, the Council has set out to try and improve its image. 

In the past it has failed to respond to related Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, using a variety of excuses. However, its behaviour with a recent FOI is particularly bizarre, even by GDC standards.

The original FOI asked the total number of FtP investigations (including hearings and investigations that had yet to reach the hearing stage) that had been stopped by the GDC because they had been informed of the registrant’s death.

A response came from the GDC, and refreshingly, it included an answer to the question posed. They replied that 36 registrants from 2016 until “the present” (the end of February 2023) had died while having an FtP investigation against them.

Which would have been the end of the enquiry and a case of the GDC being refreshingly transparent. However a few hours later the person who had raised the FOI received another email from the GDC. A Senior Information Governance Officer wrote, asking them to disregard the earlier response. They added that there had been an oversight, they needed to double check the data, and would revert.

A few days later the follow up email from the GDC arrived. In it the GDC stated that, “although the data we provided in our response was complete, it would have been better to include some further narrative to help you understand its limitations.” The table originally sent showing the numbers of deaths was copied, and then came the ‘further narrative’. The GDC wanted to explain that, “When a registrant needs to be removed from the Register, we record a reason against that persons record on our Customer Relationship Management system. One of the ‘Removal reasons’ that can be selected is that we have been informed that a registrant is deceased. The figures we provided in our FOI response show the count year by year of registrants where we were informed a registrant was deceased, recorded ‘Registrant deceased’ as removal reason and there was a Fitness to Practice (FtP) case with an open status. This could be any stage of the FTP process - for example, from the triage to the committee stage.” The GDC hoped that this explanation was useful.

At first it may be difficult to understand why the GDC felt it necessary to ask that the first response be disregarded, and then update with a new response showing exactly the same numbers. One explanation is that in the last section of their “further narrative” that they were trying to emphasise that the deaths were at all stages of FtP, including the triage stage. This would possibly enlarge the pool of registrants in the eyes of the recipient, and so make the number of deaths, as a proportion, seem lower.

All of this suggests that the GDC are still feeling somewhat sensitive over the issue of registrants dying during FtP. Their rear-guard action to avoid disclosing numbers of registrants taking their life during FtP has been well documented on GDPUK.

It is progress that the GDC now care enough about the issue to tie themselves up over an available statistic. However they continue to view the issue through the lens of managing a “narrative” rather than simply providing a simple answer to a simple question.

As the GDC at last take an interest in how their FtP process might affect registrant mental health, it remains to be seen whether this is from the perspective of genuine reform, or news management?

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