Tánaiste unveils bill to regulate doctors

HUGE changes in the way the medical profession will be policed in the future were unveiled yesterday by the Tánaiste and Minister for Health Mary Harney.

However, a growing number of doctors are already expressing their dissatisfaction with the changes, provided for in the Medical Practitioners Bill.

Up to 1,000 doctors have joined a group called the Medical Council Membership Support Committee, which has described the moves as “lunacy” on the grounds that “lay people can’t consider the issues without at least a very good grounding in anatomy”.

The new bill will see an end to the majority of Medical Council members being elected or nominated by the medical profession. Currently, the medical profession appoints 21 of the 24 members.

It is now proposed to elect 25 members to the council. Twelve members will be elected by the medical profession but only seven have to be lay members.

Four other members will be nominated by professional and other bodies and the final two will be nominated by the minister. These six members may or may not be medical practitioners .

However, Ms Harney said it is intended that the Fitness to Practice Committee will have a lay majority while the Health Committee would have a majority of medical practitioners.

She said there would be an onus on the Medical Council to ensure that registered medical practitioners maintain professional standards and competence on an ongoing basis.

It is also proposed that every medical practitioner will have to pass a council-approved examination every five years.

It emerged that the holding of Fitness to Practice hearings in public would depend on the parties involved.

Doctors giving evidence against a colleague would be protected from civil proceedings under the bill.

President of the Medical Council, Dr John Hillery, said the bill was a major step towards the introduction of modern regulation for the medical profession.

Ms Harney said she wanted to introduce the bill in the Dáil in the autumn and has invited the public to make submissions on the bill by September 15.

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