Life working as the Chief Medical Member for Tribunals: An Interview with Dr Jayne Rayner

Considering tribunal work as part of your portfolio? Learn more about what it's actually like with Chief Medical Member Jayne Rayner

1. Tell us a bit about your medical background and how your career journey brought you to your current position as a Chief Medical Member?

I qualified in 1987 and was an associate specialist in diabetes and endocrinology for most of my clinical working life, although I briefly flirted with being a GP and completed my training in Derby.

I was appointed as a judicial office holder in 1995 and sat on a very part-time basis (one afternoon a week) until 2004 when I was appointed to the salaried role of Chief Medical Member.

At that time I was also appointed as the Senior Medical member of the Gender Recognition Panel which deals with transgender applicants who wish to change the gender on their birth certificates.

2. Take us through your average day (or week)? 

I work closely with the Judicial College as I am responsible for the design and delivery of training for all the 850 doctors who sit on Social Security Appeal Tribunals. I am also involved in training the Judges and Disability Qualified Tribunal Members.

I oversee the appraisal process for all the medical members and liaise with external organisations such as the GMC and the BMA. I sit on both social security appeal tribunals and also gender recognition panel hearings.

During a JAC medical competition, I am involved with all aspects from the strategic planning and design of the competition to interviewing and moderation to the deployment of medical members.

My role is very different from that of a fee paid medical member whose main role is to sit on tribunals, although some more experienced members are ticketed to become appraisers. The sitting requirement is 15 days a year and is totally flexible. Many of our members, for example, just sit during term time and do not sit at all during the school holidays.

3. What are the key skills you’ve developed in your current position which differs from working as a conventional clinician?

Sitting as a judicial office holder is a very different role and doctors often find the transition really difficult, which is why we have a system of supportive visits for newly appointed doctors. As a tribunal judicial office holder, I am an equal part of the decision making process as we are all judges of fact and law.

This role has taught me the skill of critically and objectively evaluating evidence and applying the law to the facts.

The medical members on a tribunal are not there to act as the appellant’s clinician. This is one of the main difficulties that doctors face when they first start to sit.

The questioning is much more forensic and we are not there to give advice to the appellant about their medical condition or its management.   

4. What have been the main challenges you’ve faced in your position?

The transition from clinician to Judge, the ethical dilemmas of having to remain registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) but acting in the position of Judge.

The realisation that some appellants (albeit few) are sometimes being economical with the truth- this is something that doctors, in general, are not used to, and took some time to get used to. 

I have worked in a socially deprived community before but because of the nature of the benefits that we deal with, many of the appellants we see are from the most socially disadvantaged backgrounds in the country and it is sometimes difficult to be empathetic and objective at the same time.

5. What general advice do you have for doctors looking to apply to be medical members in judicial office?

Doctors can be appointed to a wide range of judicial offices and can sit in several jurisdictions. I think the commonest misconception is that doctors who sit on appeal tribunals are the same as those doctors who work for agencies contracted to the DWP, whereas we are completely independent of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

We are all appointed to hear appeals against decisions made by the DWP but we have to apply the same law.

My advice to anyone looking to become a judicial office holder is to go and observe a tribunal. They are public hearings and there is a list of venues on the website.

Then to go onto the Judicial Appointments Commission website and sign up for alerts for forthcoming vacancies. There is a lot of useful information about the process and the competencies that will be tested. 

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