The General Medical Council, already beset by a large increase in complaints, lost a judicial review just before Christmas which will mean an even bigger workload in future.

As a result of the latest judgement, coupled with a similar ruling last June, the preliminary proceedings committee (PPC) will have much less scope to screen cases and many more will have to be sent to the professional conduct committee (PCC).

The case was brought by the sister of a heavily overweight smoker who was taking the contraceptive Pill and who died after a visit to her GP. The sister complained to the health authority that her sibling had told her doctor of leg pains and breathlessness and should have been referred to hospital and told to stop taking the Pill.

She also alleged that the GP and his wife, also a doctor, had concealed her sister's complaints of breathlessness. The HA initially dismissed the complaint, but an appeal panel held that the patient should have been sent to hospital for a consultation and referred the case to the GMC.

The PPC decided not to send the case to the PCC, and a differently constituted PPC took the same view. The judge, Mr Justice Sullivan, said the PPC should not have resolved a conflict of evidence over whether the patient had complained of breathlessness and whether the doctor's records were true and accurate. It had gone beyond its screening role and usurped the function of the PCC.