The General Medical Council has insisted that it does not see a longterm threat to its role as a regulatory body from the newly created National Clinical Assessment Authority.

The troubled council has been hit by a wave of criticism following several high-profile scandals over the past five years - from serial killer Dr Harold Shipman to the Bristol heart scandals.

With the NCAA due to start work this autumn helping trusts and health authorities with 'doctors in difficulty', there have been concerns that it could eventually encroach on the work of the GMC itself.

But communications director Peter Kettering told HSJ: 'There is a real difference between the roles, and the GMC will continue to be the regulatory body. We are the only body that can remove the right of doctors to practise, and that will not change.

'We welcome the creation of the NCAA. It will hopefully be able to sort out problems with doctors before those problems get out of hand and end up with us.'

This position has been backed by the NCAA, which said its work would be about 'advice and support'.

Mr Kettering's comments were made during a press briefing last week at which the GMC revealed that it was expecting another record year of complaints against doctors.

In 2000, they rocketed by 49 per cent on the previous year to 4,470, but according to director of fitness to practise Isabel Nisbit, that figure could increase by another 10 per cent this year.

She said recent press coverage of the Shipman murders and gynaecologists Rodney Ledward and Richard Neale, had increased public awareness of the GMC - but it had often resulted in complaints being received about the NHS which were not directly related to the GMC's remit.

A quarter of all complaints to the council are misdirected, which meant last year 1,386 complaints only reached initial assessment.

Mrs Nisbit hoped the creation of bodies such as the Commission for Health Improvement, the NCAA and the establishment of clinical governance regimes throughout the NHS would prevent further workload pressures caused by major NHS scandals.

But she said the pressure was unlikely to fall in the immediate future because it would take 'some considerable time' for the emphasis on clinical governance to take effect and cut down on incidents where the standards of doctors' performance could be questioned.

There is also the possibility that the complexity of clinically based complaints could slow the complaints procedure, she added.