Press Release

Medical Practitioners Bill 2007 puts public interest first and modernises regulation of the medical profession

The Minister for Health and Children, Mary Harney T.D., today (22 January 2007) announced the publication of the Medical Practitioners Bill 2007, which provides for an enhanced and modern system of regulation of the medical profession in Ireland.

The Minister said,

“The publication of this Bill is a significant step in our drive towards assuring standards of patient safety. The Government have approved this Bill as a major reform to support and increase public confidence in medical practice in a structured and sustained way for decades ahead.”   “The existing Medical Practitioners Act dates back almost 30 years and it is clear, that in the interests of patients and doctors alike, a modern, accountable and efficient system of regulation is required. At this stage, incremental change to the 1978 Act is not enough. A whole new Bill is needed.”   “It is made clear in this Bill that the purpose of the Medical Council is to safeguard the public interest. The Bill contains many practical new measures towards this goal. For example, both patients and doctors will benefit from a modernised system of continual competence assurance.”   “Since the Medical Council will have the public interest as its primary goal, its membership of 25 is designed to support that. Only people with expertise and experience will be asked or elected to serve. No one group will be in a position to exert any dominant interest. Medical practitioners themselves will not be in a majority. They will work with other people of standing and expertise on the Council to advance the interests of patients and the public.”   “The Fitness to Practice Committee will also have lay members as a majority, while the new Health Committee and the Education and Training Committee will have a majority of medical practitioners.”   “In order to meet today’s standards of openness, fitness to practice hearings will normally be held in public unless the Fitness to Practice Committee itself decides that the public interest is best served otherwise.”   “This Bill is the latest step in the reform of regulation of the health professions, as outlined in the Health Strategy. I expect to introduce legislation governing pharmacists in the near future, with legislation for nurses and midwives, and dentists, to follow.”   “Alongside the Health Bill 2006 reinforcing standards and enforcement, this Bill demonstrates the Government’s commitment to ensuring patient safety in legislation, in regulation and in enforcement action. I look forward to its passage through the Oireachtas and enactment at an early date.”   Details of the Bill   Consultations

Following the publication of the Heads of Bill in summer 2006, the drafting of the Bill has been informed by proposals contained in submissions received from individual doctors, their representative organisations, patients and patient advocacy groups, the education sector, government departments, statutory bodies and agencies and others. A total of 58 submissions were received as part of the consultation.   Membership, governance and accountability

The Medical Council will continue to consist of 25 members – however, the balance between medical and non-medical representation has been significantly altered to include a majority of persons who are not nominated by the medical profession. Modern governance and accountability arrangements applicable to other statutory bodies, particularly in the health and social care area, will now apply to the Council.   Maintenance of professional competence

The Bill includes a statutory requirement for doctors to maintain their professional competence on an ongoing basis. The Medical Council, the Health Service Executive and other employers will be required to facilitate this. These and other provisions were central recommendations contained in the Lourdes Hospital Inquiry report.   Registration

The registration system for medical practitioners will be reformed so that patients can be clear on the level of competence of their doctor. Medical specialists with appropriate qualifications and experience from outside of the EU/EEA will now be able to gain direct entry to specialist registration.   Complaints and inquiries

Fitness to Practise provisions will be streamlined to include a preliminary screening process for complaints which can, if appropriate, be referred to other procedures, (such as the HSE complaints procedures) or to the competence assurance system if required. Provision for mediation in appropriate circumstances is also included. A majority of persons on the Fitness to Practise committee will not be medical practitioners and fitness to practise inquiries will normally be held in public. However, the Fitness to Practice committee may decide, on application by the medical practitioner or a witness, including the complainant, to hold some or all of an inquiry in private, depending on the circumstances.   Medical education and training

Clear responsibilities on medical education and training are outlined for the Medical Council and for the Health Service Executive, which takes over many of the responsibilities of the Postgraduate Medical and Dental Board, which will be dissolved by this legislation.