Hospital Dr News

Doctors must not sign up to ‘gagging clauses’

Doctors cannot enter into contracts or agreements with ‘gagging clauses’ and have a duty to act when they believe patient safety is at risk, new GMC guidance stipulates.

The new guidance Raising and acting on concerns about patient safety seeks to increase doctors’ sense of responsibility for the care they witness and to encourage ‘whistleblowing’.

The guidance explains when doctors need to raise concerns if patient safety is at risk, or when a patient’s care or dignity is being compromised, and advises on the help and support available to them, including how to tackle any barriers that they may face.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, 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.”

Doctors also have responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of patients when performing non-clinical duties – including when they are working as a manager. New guidance Leadership and management for all doctors has also been issued with the aim of helping doctors understand their responsibilities in relation to employment issues, teaching and training, as well as planning and using and managing resources.

Responding to the guidance, defence body MPS said employers had to do more to support doctors in raising concerns and remove “the barriers”.

Dr Stephanie Bown, director of policy and communications at MPS, said: “We receive calls from members who have seen things that cause them concern, and who are seeking clarification about what to do. Unfortunately many express fear about the potential consequences of ‘rocking the boat’ and that they might be penalised for speaking up.

“The readiness of doctors to fulfil this professional responsibility has been clouded by fear of the potential consequences. It’s unacceptable for organisations and clinical leaders to simply pay lip service to ‘raising concerns’ about patient safety – they have to live it and they have to lead by example.”

The GMC’s new local liaison service will use the guidance and work with medical directors, doctors and patients groups to help foster openness and a willingness to speak out.

Dickson said: “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.

“Our new guidance also makes clear that doctors must not sign contracts that attempt to prevent them from raising concerns with professional regulators such as the GMC and systems regulators, such as the CQC. Nor must doctors in management roles promote such contracts or encourage other doctors to sign them. Those who promote or sign such agreements are breaking their professional obligations and putting their careers at risk.”

The guidance comes into effect on 12 March 2012.

MPS’s Brown added: “It is not about an organisation having a ‘policy folder’ that they dust off when there is an issue, it’s about the organisation developing the type of working environment which encourages and supports their staff to raise concerns openly, following the appropriate procedure.”

Read the raising concerns guidance and leadership guidance.

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5 Responses to “Doctors must not sign up to ‘gagging clauses’”

  1. Dr Helen Bright says:

    Well that is lip service from both MPS and GMC!

  2. Dr Umesh Prabhu says:

    If MPS has many of their members calling expressing concerns about patient safety but still frightened to raise them then there is something seriously wrong with our NHS culture and leadership. As doctors we will be failing our patients and the Public of this country.

    I can understand doctors being frightened but why can’t MPS collect the details of the hospital from where these members are calling and refer the matter to the BMA, GMC, CQC and DOH so that patients are protected and the organisations and the leadership of such organisations are held to account?

    MPS has a duty to protect its members and make sure they work in an organisation where there is strong safety culture and not a culture of bullying which makes these doctors so frightened to raise concerns.

  3. Malcolm Morrison says:

    At last the GMC has come out and stated, unequivocally, the DUTY of doctors in these circumstances.

    However, there is ample evidence (in these columns and elsewhere) that doctors are frightened of ‘blowing the whistle’ – and the treatment of those who have done so makes such fear understandable.

    Maybe the solution should be that doctors ‘alert’ the GMC of such cases where patients are being put in danger – and the GMC should take the matter up with the Trust/hospital/ GP whilst maintaining the anonymity of the whistle-blower.
    Retired Orthopod

  4. Whistleblower says:

    Malcolm, Oh Malcolm the life of a whistleblower is far worse than German Nazi camp. You are alive but you are not alive. Its like your life comes to an abrupt halt.

    If you are a doctor please, please run away to Canada, Australia or some where you are safe.

    Do not believe nor care what GMC tell you because when you ask they will tell you they have no power to intervene nor support you. They made it clear their job is to maintain register and collect fee from doctors taking PLAB examination.

    By chance you report about some wrong doings, be prepared, they may start investigating you and impose an IOP. This has happened to me and few doctors I have met.

  5. LocumDoc says:

    By the way I forgot to mention, the GMC Registrar is NOT a doctor so please do not send any confidential information. The registrar does not know which side of the body is called head, so take care.

    The atrocities that went on in Mid Staffordshire Hospital is only the tip of the iceberg. This has been going on since 2003 in hospitals, walk in clinic, OOH service and GP surgery. Doctors like me who go around various clinics and hospital doing locum get to see this better than a frog sitting in a pond. I have kept records of all the atrocities and will publish the info if the Politicians do not act soon and bring in prosecution against the people who committed them.

    How can any person in power come between doctors and his patient? (this is like telling a father or mother how to take care of their children) I consider this relationship very sacred and so no human on earth can stop me or other doctors from what we do. If drugs could save life then why did the NHS need doctors?

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