Organisations referring concerns about a doctor’s fitness to practise to the GMC should declare whether the doctor has raised concerns about patient safety.
This is the key recommendation of a report by Sir Anthony Hooper, a retired Lord Justice of Appeal, who says there is evidence that those who raise concerns may suffer, or believe that they suffer, reprisals from their employer or from colleagues. He proposes a series of recommendations for GMC investigations to make sure that such whistleblowers are treated fairly.
Sir Anthony says the way to minimise the risk that the GMC unwittingly becomes the instrument of the employer in a campaign against a doctor is an understanding of the background to the allegation.
He also recommends the creation of ‘a simple, confidential and voluntary online system’ to help doctors as well as other healthcare professionals to record the fact they have raised a concern with their employer.
Niall Dickson, Chief Executive of the General Medical Council, said: “We welcome Sir Anthony’s report. We are obliged to investigate concerns about doctors which are reported to us, but he is right to say that we could do more to understand the background of the referrals that we receive from employers.
“No organisation should refer a doctor to the GMC on the basis of an allegation which is unjustified – or because that individual has raised concerns about patient safety. Doctors must be able to raise concerns without fear of reprisal. This is essential if we are going to have a health system that is safe, open and compassionate.”
Sir Anthony’s review takes into account the recommendations made by Sir Robert Francis QC in his Freedom to Speak Up Report published on 11 February 2015.
Dickson added: “Our guidance is clear that doctors must raise concerns when the safety of patients is at risk and we are fully committed to supporting those who do – our guidance, confidential helpline and online decision making tool are a few examples of our work in this area.
“We are committed to doing what we can to support doctors who raise concerns. We will consider the recommendations and discuss them with key interest groups and we will publish an action plan about how we will take them forward.”
Responding to the report, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said: “Employers are working hard to remove any cultural barriers that could prevent fair treatment – or the expectation of fair treatment – for doctors who raise concerns. There is already good progress and we need to get this right for the NHS, staff and patients.
“We would welcome a discussion about Sir Anthony’s findings and hope that any accepted recommendations are taken forward together with those of the recently published Freedom to Speak Up Report.”