Medical Council warns over Practitioners Bill

THE Medical Council has warned that the new Medical Practitioners Bill, published yesterday, could prevent it from acting in the public interest in the future.

Council president Dr John Hillery said the bill, as it was currently worded, would allow the Minister for Health and the Health Service Executive (HSE) to divert it from activities that others may find “discomforting”. The council, which has called for the proposed legislation to be amended, has warned that the system must not be built to fail again.

Dr Hillery said the wording of the bill must be changed to guarantee the independence of the council. Under the bill, expected to be law by April, medical practitioners will no longer make up the majority of the council, the body responsible for regulating doctors in Ireland.

The Fitness to Practice Committee, which is responsible for holding professional conduct inquiries, will also comprise a majority of lay members.

Health Minister Mary Harney said the council will have the public interest as its primary goal and its membership of 25 is designed to support that.

No one group would be in a position to exert any dominant interest, she said. Ms Harney emphasised, however, that only people with expertise and experience would be asked to to serve on the council.

While the proposed legislation provides for fitness to practice hearings to be held in public, witnesses, including the complainant and the doctor may request that some or all of the hearing is held in private, if ‘reasonable and sufficient’ cause can be shown.

The bill also provides for a screening process for complaints so that, where appropriate, complaints will be referred to another authority such as the HSE or the competence assurance system.

Doctors will be obliged to maintain their professional competence on an ongoing basis under the proposed legislation and the registration system will be reformed so that patients can be clear on the level of competence of their doctor.

Under the bill, the council will be able to investigate any case of an individual who is not registered but is suspected of practising medicine, or is claiming to be a registered medical practitioner.

Dr Hillery said the bill was just part of what needed to be done. Hospitals needed to be licensed and a national audit was required.

He also felt that medical regulation could only work in the public interest if doctors in the frontline took ownership of their actions and the actions of their colleagues.

“This requires a medical majority on council and we will be highlighting this during the debate on the Bill,” Dr Hillery said.

Another major issue the council has with the bill is its failure to provide for future funding of lifetime medical education and will be asking Ms Harney to clarify this when the debate on the legislation begins.

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