"Gagging clauses" unacceptable says GMC

DOCTORS should not sign contracts with "gagging clauses" to stop them from raising concerns about poor quality care according to new guidelines from the GMC.

In a guidance document published this week – Raising and acting on concerns about patient safety – the GMC instructs doctors that they "must not enter into contracts or agreements with your employing or contracting body that seek to prevent you from or restrict you in raising concerns about patient safety. Contracts or agreements are void if they intend to stop an employee from making a protected disclosure."

It further points out that The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 protects individuals making disclosures that 'tend to show' that the health or safety of a person is or may be endangered.

Niall Dickson Chief Executive of the General Medical Council said: "These clauses are totally unacceptable. Doctors who sign such contracts are breaking their professional obligations and are putting patients, and their careers, at risk.

"Being a good doctor involves more than simply being a good clinician. It means being committed to improving the quality of services and being willing to speak up when things are not right – that is not always easy but it is at the heart of medical professionalism. Healthcare today is seldom an isolated affair and using the eyes and ears of health professionals can be the most effective way of protecting patients and ensuring high quality care."

The GMC has also published new guidance on Leadership and management for all doctors highlighting how registrants also have responsibility for the safety and well being of patients when performing non-clinical duties – including when they are working as a manager. Its aim is to help doctors understand their responsibilities in relation to employment issues, teaching and training, as well as planning, using and managing resources.

Both guidance documents come into effect on 12 March 2012 and will be sent out to all 240,000 doctors on the medical register.