Don’t turn a blind eye

Reporting a colleague over patient safety concerns is never easy - but failure to do so could leave you in professional difficulty.

REPORTING a colleague who you believe poses a threat to patient safety is never easy for any healthcare professional. However, doctors and dentists must resist the temptation to simply overlook, or “turn a blind eye” to, issues of concern. By doing so, not only could patient safety be jeopardised, but you yourself could end up in professional difficulty for not having acted to put those issues right.

All doctors and dentists are required to speak up if they believe patient safety or care is being compromised by the practice of colleagues. Both the General Medical Council and General Dental Council recognise there may be reluctance to do so, perhaps for fear that nothing may be done or that raising your concern may cause problems for colleagues or for your own career prospects.

But that is no excuse for inaction.

In its guidance Raising and acting on concerns about patient safety, the GMC says: “You have a duty to put patients’ interests first and act to protect them, which overrides personal and professional loyalties.”

Similarly, GDC guidance Standards for dental professionals states: “If you believe that patients might be at risk because of your health, behaviour or professional performance, or that of a colleague, or because of any aspect of the clinical environment, you should take action. These principles should override any personal or professional loyalties or concerns you might have about seeming disloyal or being victimised by your colleagues or managers.”

If you have concerns about a colleague and you do not raise them with the health board/PCT or the GMC/GDC and the failing clinician’s fitness to practise is later called into question, then you could also find yourself in professional difficulties.

In recent months there has been an increasing emphasis on the value of “whistleblowing” and a growing number of support structures have been put in place. Earlier in 2012, a free government-funded whistleblowing hotline was launched (08000 724 725) and a national charter, Speaking Up, was published to protect NHS staff who raise concerns.

The GMC also recently launched a confidential helpline for doctors to raise concerns about patient safety on 0161 923 6399.

If you have concerns but are unsure of how to proceed then it is advisable to discuss the issue with a senior colleague or call your medical or dental defence organisation where an adviser can offer guidance and support.

Some legal protection is offered to whistleblowers against victimisation or dismissal in cases where they have revealed information to raise genuine concerns.

The GMC reassures doctors in Raising concerns… that: “You do not need to wait for proof – you will be able to justify raising a concern if you do so honestly, on the basis of reasonable belief and through appropriate channels, even if you are mistaken.”

The Public Interest Disclosure Act (1998) (PIDA) was introduced to provide protection for those who honestly raise concerns about wrongdoing or malpractice in the workplace and are victimised and/or dismissed for doing so.

The GDC advises: “Workers are most easily given protection by the Act when they raise a concern internally. Protection is also available for disclosures made to certain regulators and, in exceptional circumstances, wider disclosures (for example to an MP or the media) may also be protected.”

The GDC also makes a clear distinction between making a complaint and raising a concern, adding: “When someone makes a complaint, they may be expected to prove their case. When you raise a concern, you should not be expected to prove the malpractice you are concerned about.”

Ultimately, the decision on whether to speak out will be a matter of individual professional judgement but GMC/GDC guidance should be at the forefront of your mind.

ACTION Failure to raise genuine concerns could result in professional trouble for doctors and dentists. If in doubt, seek advice from MDDUS.