The General Medical Council is to offer help to senior NHS managers who are 'anxious' about their responsibility to provide quality care, its president has told the Bristol Royal Infirmary inquiry.

GMC president Sir Donald Irvine told the inquiry on Monday that the council is planning a series of open meetings for chairs and chief executives to help them understand how to protect patients, a responsibility made explicit by clinical governance.

He said he had been convinced of the need to support managers through informal discussions with senior managers over the last 18 months, which had been arranged during visits to medical schools.

'There is a great deal of anxiety among senior management about clinical governance', Sir Donald said.

He added that 'they greatly value direct communication with the GMC'.

Sir Donald conceded that the GMC itself needed to speed up its handling of complaints and become more responsive to concerns about clinical competence.

He was told that the chair of the Bristol Heart Children Action Group had told the inquiry that only last month the GMC had failed to return any of its five telephone calls.

'Our own culture needs to change and we are making strenuous efforts in that direction to do so,' said Sir Donald.

He revealed that a 'complete overhaul' of the GMC's administrative arrangements was under way, and claimed that staff were now 'really committed to a quality-minded approach to the GMC's work'.

'We are about to publish operating standards in relation to receipt of complaints, and it is our intention in future to be able to audit and publish our performance against those.'