Doctors should seek guidance before whistleblowing

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release: Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Doctors who have concerns about colleagues over patient safety issues should act swiftly and seek advice.

UK-wide medical defence organisation MDDUS is urging doctors not to try and deal with whistleblowing concerns on their own and instead speak to a senior colleague or contact their medical defence organisation for expert and objective advice.

The findings of the public inquiry into failings at Stafford Hospital highlighted the need to create an environment where doctors can raise concerns in the interest of patient safety without fear of recrimination.

Doctors are sometimes reluctant to report concerns out of fear of retribution or of damaging their own careers.

The Francis report calls for a change of culture in the NHS where patients are protected and poor performance is unacceptable. MDDUS reminds doctors that they have a professional obligation to raise concerns when they believe that patients may be at risk. This duty is clearly defined by the GMC.

“Raising concerns is never an easy thing to do,” says MDDUS Joint Head of Medical Division Dr Anthea Martin. “However, if there is concern about patient safety then doctors are required to speak up.”

In an attempt to help create a more open and transparent working culture, the GMC launched a confidential helpline for doctors to raise concerns about patient safety. This follows the launch of a free government-funded whistleblowing hotline and a national charter Speaking Up to protect NHS workers that raise concerns.

Doctors can also contact their medical defence organisation for expert and objective advice and assistance as well as seeking advice from a senior colleague. “There are fears that speaking out could jeopardise a health professional’s career,” says Dr Martin.

“MDDUS strongly advise doctors to call their medical defence organisation, once they have discussed their initial concerns with their line manager or Medical Director if in a managed service, or to a senior partner or PCT medical director if in general practice.”

Doctors who raise concerns can be crucial in helping to raise standards but they must act honestly and should also be prepared to justify their actions.

“Speaking out on patient safety issues, systems or on a colleague’s conduct will be a matter of individual professional judgement but at all times GMC guidance must be at the forefront of a doctor’s mind,” adds Dr Martin.

“It is important to have read the guidance before embarking on this path.”

Doctors have a duty to put patients’ interests first and act to protect them, this overrides personal and professional loyalties, according to the GMC publication Raising and acting on concerns about patient safety.

The guidance states that doctors do not need to wait for proof – and will be able to justify raising concerns if they do so honestly and on the basis of reasonable belief and through appropriate channels, even if they are mistaken.

GMC’s Good Medical Practice also informs doctors that they must “protect patients from risk of harm posed by another colleague’s conduct, performance or health by taking appropriate steps immediately so that the concerns are investigated and patients are protected where necessary.”

Some protection is afforded by the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, with the law providing “legal protection against victimisation or dismissal for individuals who reveal information to raise genuine concerns and expose malpractice in the workplace.”

In the aftermath of the Francis report, GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: “We need to do more to make sure doctors and other professionals feel they can speak out. Last year we issued detailed guidance to all doctors on what they need to do whenever they have concerns about patient safety.”

Ends

For further information contact Richard Hendry on 0845 270 2034 or 07976 272266, or email rihendry@mddus.com.

Note to editors

MDDUS (The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland) is a medical and dental defence organisation providing access to professional indemnity and expert medico- and dento-legal advice for doctors, dentists and other healthcare professionals throughout the UK. For further information on MDDUS go to www.mddus.com.

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