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Monitoring professional competence

AUTHOR(S): Tom Hayes
PRACTICE AREA GROUP: Healthcare
DATE: 10.09.2013

It has recently been confirmed that the Medical Council will seek to verify that every medical practitioner who is the subject of a complaint to the Medical Council has complied with their professional competence obligations. this verification process will take place irrespective of whether the complaint is well grounded.

If a practitioner fails to maintain their professional competence, they may find themselves the subject of a separate Medical Council complaint and subsequent disciplinary action. Consequently, practitioners should ensure that they remain up to date in respect of their professional competency obligations.

Practitioner’s obligations

Registered medical practitioners have a legal duty to maintain their professional competence in accordance with the standards set by the Medical Council on an ongoing basis.

To satisfy this duty, practitioners must enrol in professional competence schemes operated by approved postgraduate medical training bodies. The selection of suitable courses is self-directed and the selected schemes must be relevant to the practitioner’s education, training, competence and current practice. The Medical Council has published guidelines to assist practitioners in selecting suitable schemes.

The annual professional competence requirements are available from the Medical Council. Essentially, a practitioner must complete at least 50 hours per year of continuing professional development, incorporating a number of activities including teaching or research, maintaining knowledge and skills, and practice evaluation.

An annual clinical self-audit must be undertaken by practitioners. the clinical audit is a self-reflective review of a practitioner’s practice and incorporates activities such as skills analysis, review of patient satisfaction and self-assessment.

It is recommended that practitioners spend one hour per month on professional competence activities.

Monitoring and verifying professional competence

The Medical Council has a duty to monitor practitioners’ compliance with their professional competence obligations. The Council has implemented a system based on self-assessment to discharge this duty. The Council also has extensive supplemental powers to ensure compliance. a professional competence verification request may arise following an annual declaration of compliance by a practitioner, or on foot of a complaint to the Medical Council.

Annual declaration

Under the Rules for the Maintenance of Professional Competence, practitioners must make an annual declaration that they have enrolled in and are complying with the requirements of a professional competence scheme. This declaration forms part of the process for the practitioner’s annual retention of registration.

Selection for verification

The Medical Council can select any registered practitioner to verify that professional competence obligations are being observed. Ordinarily, a sample of practitioners is chosen following a review of the annual declarations.

The Medical Council will write to each selected practitioner, seeking documentation to support and verify their annual declarations. The Medical Council will generally provide guidance as to what documentation is required.

Mandatory verification

The Medical Council will also verify the professional competence of every practitioner who is subject to a complaint to the Medical Council. It has been suggested that this policy serves to stigmatise doctors who are subject to frivolous or vexatious complaints. however, the Medical Council has confirmed that this process will apply irrespective of the grounding of a complaint.

Compliance

A practitioner who is subject to a professional competence verification request must comply with the Medical Council’s requirements. A failure to engage with the process may lead to a complaint and subsequent disciplinary action.

What to do upon receipt of a verification request

A practitioner selected for verification should submit a statement of participation issued by an approved postgraduate training body to the Medical Council, in order to verify their professional competence. Given the obligation to enrol in a professional competence scheme, obtaining this evidence should not be difficult. No other form of certification is required.

Information relating to a practitioner’s participation in a professional competence scheme is confidential and may only be disclosed by the Medical Council in limited defined circumstances, such as in the context of criminal or civil proceedings, or in the form of an anonymised summary. Furthermore, the Freedom of Information acts 1997 and 2003 do not apply to such information.

Approved post graduate medical training bodies

The Medical Council has approved 13 postgraduate medical training bodies to provide professional competence schemes, including the following:

  • College of Anaesthetists of Ireland
  • College of Psychiatry of Ireland
  • Irish College of General Practitioners
  • Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
  • Various faculties of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland

Approved bodies issue statements of participation annually as evidence of a practitioner’s enrolment in a professional competence scheme. The statement also sets out the types and amounts of activities which have been completed.

Outcomes of the verification process

The submission of a satisfactory statement of participation will generally conclude the verification process. In such circumstances, except where the practitioner is the subject of a complaint to the Medical Council, they are exempt from selection for verification for five years.

If the practitioner does not meet the Medical Council’s requirements, the matter will be considered by the Professional Competence Committee. The Medical Council may issue a notice to the practitioner reminding them of the applicable standards and advising appropriate corrective action. the practitioner will generally be given an opportunity to address any deficiency in professional competence. Ultimately, however, a practitioner who fails to maintain their professional competence may be subject to disciplinary action.

Conclusion

It is unlikely that a failure to comply with professional competence obligations will give rise to a flurry of complaints against practitioners. However, practitioners should ensure that their professional competence obligations are fulfilled and well documented to ensure the swift resolution of any Medical Council verification request.

It is unclear why the professional competence of practitioners who are the subject of frivolous or vexatious complaints must be verified. It could be argued that resources would be better allocated elsewhere. owever, the underlying duty to maintain professional competence rests with the practitioner and so participation with the verification process should not be onerous.

For further information please contact the authors, Tom Hayes or Grace Keegan.

This article was first published by Irish Medical News on 9 September 2013.

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