Applying for a Postponement of a MPTS / GMC Hearing
MPTS / GMC Postponements or Adjourments
Attending a GMC/MPTS hearing is stressful for any doctor. Some doctors feel that they cannot face the hearing because of the stress that they are experiencing. Stress in itself will be unlikely to lead to the fitness to practise case being postponed. A doctor who does not attend a hearing risks an adverse outcome that will not be easy to correct on appeal. Panels will generally proceed in the absence of a doctor who does not attend a hearing, who has also failed to provide sufficient evidence that they are unfit to attend and participate.
Some doctors facing GMC proceedings obtain medical evidence that is relied upon to show the MPTS tribunal that they are unwell. But even that evidence may be dismissed by the tribunal as being insufficient. A sick note from a doctor’s GP may not be enough if it merely states that the doctor is unwell and will be unwell for 7 days.
Where a case is heard in the absence of a doctor, the MPTS panel may well come to adverse conclusions that affect the doctor’s ability to practice. It is not unusual for a fitness to practise tribunal to proceed through each of the stages of a hearing. Doctors may later learn that they have been struck off or suspended, having not had the opportunity to make representations.
A doctor who is facing GMC proceedings should ensure that their postponement / adjournment application is well-evidenced. They should write a statement as to why they cannot attend. They should provide supporting evidence as well. If the postponement is being sought on medical grounds, as opposed to the defence case not being ready or there being some abuse of process ground for the application, the doctor will need to obtain good evidence from their GP and possibly from an expert within the clinical speciality. Each case turns on its own facts.
Each MPTS tribunal, drawn at random from a pool of trained doctors and lay people, will have differing views as to whether the evidence is sufficient to justify a postponement. In a pluralist society, the supervising appeal courts will not readily interfere with the judgment of a MPTS panel unless the decision to proceed in absence was not justified in all of the circumstances. The threshold test for appeals to be successful is a high one and very few appellants succeed.
Medical evidence needs to be sufficiently detailed. Here is some guidance in the case of General Medical Council v Hayat  EWCA Civ 2796 (13 December 2018) which sets out the tests for the tribunals and the courts, when considering whether to proceed in the absence of the doctor. See in particular paragraphs 32 to 43 of that judgment. There are other cases that give further guidance.
There is a significant risk that an application for an adjourment / postponement will be unsuccessful. If the application is unsuccessful, the doctor should attend the hearing to present their case.
A judge considering a recent appeal against the MPTS IOT’s refusal to adjourn a case held that a tribunal as a ‘generous discretion’ as to whether to adjourn, which appears to mean that adjournments should seldom be granted except on very strong grounds. When one considers the delay that might be caused, and the costs to the public purse of abandoning set dates, balancing the public interest (to have cases determined within a reasonable time) against the interests of the doctor to have a fair trial, one can see the arguments that will be deployed against a doctor.
For legal advice on evidence needed for adjournment applications, and legal representation in adjournment applications, contact us via our Contact Form, or call us on 0800 10 88 739.