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MPs insist that NHS whistleblowers are protected

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e1709 (Published 07 March 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1709
  1. Adrian O’Dowd
  1. 1London

Clinicians who raise concerns about professional standards at their place of work must be protected from any resulting disciplinary action, according to MPs.

MPs on the influential parliamentary health select committee have called for guarantees that doctors who blow the whistle about poor practice should not be subjected to punitive action as a consequence.

The committee published a report on 7 March as a follow-up to the responses given by government and four healthcare regulatory bodies to accountability reports published by the committee in 2011.

The new report says that “doctors and other practitioners who have raised concerns about other staff have sometimes been subject to suspension, dismissal, or other sanctions,” and this was discussed at an evidence session held in December last year.

That session had followed media reports that doctors were being asked, as part of the termination of employment process, to sign clauses in compromise agreements that were alleged to be inconsistent with the obligations of doctors to raise concerns about the quality of practice within the employing organisation with their regulator the General Medical Council.

The three NHS organisations that had been identified as entering into such agreements all told the committee that they had reviewed the situation and would no longer use such provisions.

In addition, Gavin Larner, director of professional standards at the Department of Health, had told the committee that such clauses were inconsistent with the Public Interest Disclosure Act and were unacceptable, hence the department had written to the trusts concerned to ask them to review their policies.

The report says: “There is a consensus here that we need to encourage people to speak out. With anything that hits against that, and in particular that crosses the act, we need to make sure the service understands its responsibilities.

“The committee also continues to believe that there is an essential public interest in ensuring that professionals are protected against punitive action when they raise concerns about professional standards at their place of work.”

Committee chair Stephen Dorrell, Conservative MP for Charnwood, said: “The effective exercise of professional responsibility is and must remain the bedrock upon which high standards of patient care are built.”

In the report, MPs also welcomed a commitment from the General Medical Council that it was still treating the introduction of a system of revalidation for all doctors by late 2012, as its number one priority.

However, MPs warned that there must be early public notice if the regulator believed that delivery of the timetable was at risk.

Other concerns raised by the committee last year about NHS watchdog the Care Quality Commission were still being monitored, said the MPs.

The committee planned to examine the progress made on the 23 recommendations contained in a performance and capability review of the Commission that was carried out by the Department of Health and published last month (www.dh.gov.uk/health/2012/02/cqc-performance-review/).

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e1709

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