Published: 07/04/2005, Volume II5, No. 5949 Page 21

Joyce Robins, co-director, Patient Concern

Patient Concern was delighted when health secretary John Reid first announced the review panel to consider the role of the General Medical Council, asserting that it must focus on protecting patients rather than representing doctors.

As a participant in the two-day seminar on the regulation of doctors at the Shipman inquiry, I have a keen interest in this area.

In late March we discovered, through medical contacts, that a 'Call for Ideas' consultation, aimed at informing the review panel, was under way with a deadline of April 11. On further enquiry, we found that details of this had been circulated to 'selected stakeholders' - a mere 30.

Just two patient organisations were included in the list: the LongTerm Medical Conditions Alliance and Diabetes UK. All the rest were medical interests. Anyone else could respond - should they happen to come across it on the web.

What price patient involvement?

Not for the first time the rhetoric of ensuring that patients are at the heart of the service rings hollow.

The core issue is patient safety and whether the GMC in its present form is too focused on supporting doctors - yet it is almost exclusively doctors and other medical interests who have been targeted by the consultation.

We protested vigorously to Mr Reid and to chief medical officer Professor Sir Liam Donaldson.

Within 48 hours of our intervention Sir Liam extended the consultation deadline to May 13. We can only hope that a wider body of stakeholders will now be contacted.

How long must we wait before the Department of Health takes positive steps towards patient empowerment rather than simply talking about it?