Exclusive

The General Medical Council is to strike back at its critics with a team of spin doctors.

Provoked by mounting criticism of its failure to stop bad doctors practising, leading GMC members are to set up a committee of medics and lay people to rebut damaging stories and explain the council's actions.

The move came as new powers to suspend doctors accused of being a danger to patients were approved by the House of Lords.

It also came as the GMC revealed research showing that overseas doctors are more likely to be referred for disciplinary procedures than their EU counterparts.

Doctors who qualify outside the EU are more likely to face complaints, more likely to be referred to the GMC's professional conduct committee by screeners who weed out trivial cases and more likely to appear before the committee.

The rapid-response public relations team is set to be approved at a GMC meeting this week. Council member Dr Krishna Korlipara told HSJ : 'The GMC has been conspicuous by its absence in the media by failing to appear to explain what it is doing, even when it is doing it well.'

The new team would 'own up to our weaknesses, explain our strengths and explain the processes and the way we work'.

The team would work independently of GMC president Sir Donald Irvine, who has borne the brunt of the media onslaught of recent weeks.

Dr Korlipara said he had had 'brutally frank' conversations with Sir Donald. 'I am determined to put right the way we present very selectively the facts and hide behind gobbledegook, ' he said.

The move was 'an admission of weakness' in the way the council handled criticism, he said, adding that he 'had sympathy' with doctors in the British Medical Association who passed a vote of no confidence in the GMC at their annual conference last month.

But one of its former presidents made a stout defence of the GMC in the House of Lords last week.

Lord Walton of Detchant told a debate on an amendment to the Medical Act 1983 to give the GMC fresh powers that the 'bad press' the council had received was 'ill- advised and ill-informed'.

The GMC had proposed increasing the minimum time doctors are struck off to three years. Currently, doctors can apply to be restored to the register after 10 months.

The government wants to increase the banned period to five years. This was approved by the Lords and was due to be discussed by the privy council yesterday.

The government has also won Lords support for a new power to suspend doctors suspected of poor performance or serious illness immediately, a requirement for the GMC to notify employers when a doctor is being investigated and an increase in the number of lay members on its committees.

The GMC last week defended itself against charges of discriminating against overseas doctors.

Lord Patel, chair of the GMC racial equality group, blamed 'public bodies' such as hospitals and the police for 'referring proportionately more overseas qualified doctors to the GMC than UK qualifiers'.

He said it was 'encouraging' that an investigation by the Policy Studies Institute, due to be published in full later this month, had found 'no evidence of racism'.