GMC pilot scheme to protect whistleblowers

WHISTLEBLOWING doctors are being offered extra protection from unfair General Medical Council complaints.

A six-month pilot scheme has been launched in parts of the UK that requires designated bodies, such as NHS organisations and independent healthcare providers, to disclose whether a doctor who is subject to a GMC complaint has previously raised patient safety concerns.

The person referring the clinician to the regulator will also have to make a declaration that the complaint is being made in good faith and that steps have been taken to ensure it is fair and accurate.

It is hoped this approach will reduce the risk of doctors who have raised safety concerns being unfairly referred to the GMC. The move takes forward a recommendation from Sir Anthony Hooper’s review of GMC whistleblowing procedures which was published in March.

A second pilot scheme has also been launched by the GMC that aims to speed up fitness to practise investigations. Under the scheme, doctors alleged to have made a "one-off mistake involving poor clinical care" will not be subject to a full investigation and could see their cases resolved within three months – half the time for most investigations.

GMC investigators will gather and review key pieces of information about the case, such as medical records and incident reports, to ensure there is no ongoing patient safety risk. If the doctor then accepts their error and takes steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again, the GMC said it is likely the case will be closed.

Cases that do not meet the "one-off mistake" criteria may be resolved locally by employers, while others may continue to a full investigation. The new approach is expected to avoid the need for around 230 full investigations a year. It builds on a similar approach introduced last year for other types of cases which the GMC said has been "highly successful".

GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: "A GMC investigation can place great pressure on the doctor involved and these pilots are the latest in a series of proposals to reduce the stress and make the whole process faster while continuing to make sure they are fair and we protect patients.

"We have acted on information from Sir Anthony Hooper’s review and this latest initiative means we will seek assurance that complaints are made accurately and in good faith. Sir Anthony found that some doctors are concerned about retaliation from employers who raise concerns about patient safety."

The GMC said further planned reforms to their fitness to practise processes will require changes to legislation.

Mr Dickson added: "We believe there should be fewer full GMC investigations, and employers have a crucial part to play in dealing with concerns at a local level. We know our procedures can be too long and onerous for doctors and patients - we are dealing with complaints faster and we are becoming more responsive we are constrained by outdated legislation."