Published: 24/02/2005, Volume II5, No. 5944 Page 7

NHS managers have welcomed new disciplinary guidelines that end the loophole by which consultants who were on the verge of being sacked could delay the process by appealing to the health secretary.

The guidelines announced last week strip away the distinction between personal and professional misconduct, which was often a cause of legal obfuscation, and set new time limits on resolving complex and time-consuming cases.

Under the old system, which dates back to the creation of the NHS in 1948, delays including informal suspensions known as 'gardening leave' cost an estimated£40m a year according to the National Audit Office. In some extreme cases doctors stayed at home for years on full NHS salaries.

Now misconduct, ill health and questions of skill and professional competence related to all doctors and dentists employed by the NHS will be dealt with using the same framework.

This means doctors will no longer have the special right of appeal to the health secretary if they are on the verge of being sacked.

Unlike the General Medical Council, NHS organisations will not be able to inform the press when a doctor faces disciplinary action.

There will be a single process for handling questions of competence that will be closely tied into the work of the National Clinical Assessment Authority. NCAA chief executive Dr Alastair Scotland said the framework was 'good news' and built on work the authority was doing.

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