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Review on how GMC treats whistleblowers

A former judge has been appointed to investigate the way whistleblowing doctors are treated by the General Medical Council, it has been revealed.

Sir Anthony Hooper QC, a former court of appeal judge, has been called in after MPs criticised the organisation’s treatment of whistleblowers. One MP, Charlotte Leslie, told the GMC last month there was a perception it often supported “the bad guys.”

Sir Anthony is a former chair of the Whistleblowing Commission, and the appointment comes as a full independent review of whistleblowing in the NHS gets under way. It is to be led by Sir Robert Francis, who chaired the public inquiry into the Mid-Staffordshire hospitals scandal.

The review, which was announced by the chief executive of the GMC, Niall Dickson, to the Health Select Committee in June, will look at how doctors who raise concerns are currently treated by the GMC and how best they might be supported in future.

The review is expected to make recommendations as to how the GMC’s current guidance and processes might be adapted to reflect the needs of so-called whistleblowers.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, said: “Standing up for what you believe in is important, and nowhere is that more true than in healthcare. Our guidance is quite clear about the requirement of doctors to raise concerns about poor care, but we want to make sure we are doing all we can to support those that do.

“Raising concerns is central to protecting patients and providing good medical care. We want to ensure that the GMC has the proper processes and guidance in place to support doctors who raise concerns. We hope that this review – which is focussed on the GMC alone – will also be helpful in the context of the wider review of whistleblowing in the NHS being undertaken by Sir Robert Francis QC.”

Sir Anthony added: “Having previously chaired the Whistleblowing Commission, I am only too aware of the challenges faced not only by the individuals who raise concerns, but the organisations and regulators who have to deal with them.

“This is a timely review by the GMC and I am delighted to have been asked to undertake it.”

The review will hear the views of those who may have suffered as a result of raising concerns, as well as the perspective and experience of employers, trade unions and professional leaders.

MP Charlotte Leslie said: “For a decade or more, the message has been in the NHS that if you are clinician and speak out for patient safety, you can expect to be discredited, smeared and lose your livelihood. But if you are a manager doing a bad job or hiding the truth, you can often expect a promotion.”

Meanwhile, NHS staff are being urged to share their experiences of blowing the whistle on incidents of poor patient care.

Sir Robert Francis QC, who led two major inquiries into failures at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, has launched a call for evidence for his review of whistleblowing in the health service.

The aim of his independent review, commissioned by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier this year, is to recommend how best staff can be supported to raise concerns about poor patient care.

Sir Robert said: ”We need a culture where ‘I need to report this’ is the thought, foremost in the mind of any NHS worker that has concerns – a culture where concerns are listened to and acted upon. The Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry showed the appalling consequences for patients when there is a ‘closed ranks’ culture.

”We need to hear from as many people in the NHS as possible, so we can learn more about what we need to do to support staff to raise concerns, and support the NHS to listen to them.”

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