The GDC and Inexpert Witnesses

The GDC and Inexpert Witnesses

For many years, the US military infamously had a “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding it’s members sexual orientation. It was ultimately recognised as wrong and something it hindered the force’s performance. 

The same criticism could be made of the GDC’s refusal to talk about its choices of expert witnesses (EWs).

Expert witnesses play a major part in Fitness to Practice (FTP) cases. Each side will appoint one with the objective that they can provide impartial opinions on, for example, the standard of treatment provided by the registrant. The theory is that this provides the panel with independent specialist knowledge on clinical or technical matters.

Regrettably there have been repeated cases of the GDC’s selecting expert witnesses that have shown a woeful lack of expert knowledge, a stand out example being the Williams top up case. Despite this, the same expert was used later by the GDC on other cases, and once again showed a disturbing lack of self-awareness about their own limitations - See this article

This is not the only evidence of the GDC and expert witnesses adopting an aggressive ‘hired gun’ approach to their work. In these circumstances it would be reassuring for registrants to know a little more about how the GDC uses expert witnesses. A Freedom of Information (FOI) request was sent to the GDC asking about the numbers of FTP cases where EWs were used and also how many different EW’s the GDC had commissioned. How many cases the most hired EW had worked on, a mean value of payments to EW’s, and the range of payments made were asked about, as this would give some insight into how significant a part to their income this work might be.

Most organisations whether in the public or private sector would use some form of software, if even in basic spreadsheet form, from which most of this information could be gleaned. As reported in GDPUK  the GDC replied and confirmed that they hold this information, but refused to provide it. This was on the grounds that it would, “exceed the appropriate limit to locate, extract, and/or retrieve the information requested.” By way of explanation they said they had received 140 invoices for EW work in 2022. As is often their way, at end of their refusal letter the GDC added: “If you would like to submit a new request, please let us know.”

The FOI had been sent via the WhatDoTheyKnow website which also provides useful tips on getting a response from recalcitrant organisations. Requests are more likely to be answered if simple and brief. So a new FOI was sent. Rather than asking for data for three years it was requested for two. The only questions now were:

1) The number of FTP cases where an expert witness was used by the GDC in that year.

2) The total fees and disbursements paid to expert witnesses in that year.

The GDC once again confirmed that they held the information, and once again the request was rejected. Once more this was on cost grounds. The GDC claim that it would take more than 18 hours of work to provide this information. They claim that they would need to, “manually review every Fitness to Practise (FTP) case for each of the years specified.”

They explained at some length the convoluted process that they would need to follow to provide the information, much of it involving “manual review.” This time there was not an invitation to send a new request. Instead the GDC’s parting shot was: “I am not able to suggest a way in which you could narrow the scope and refine your request to bring it within the appropriate cost limit.”

It stretches registrant’s credulity to ask them to believe that in 2024 the GDC has such labour intensive systems, although it may explain why they so often appear unable to carry out their basic remit.

This is regrettably just one example of the GDC’s lack of transparency. Similar responses have been received to general questions about overall FTP costs, and of course their scandalous refusal to reveal the numbers of suicides during FTP now drags on into another year.

The American version of don’t ask don’t tell officially ended in September 2011. How much longer can the GDC carry on blanking its registrants when it comes to expert witnesses?


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