Intended for healthcare professionals


How whistleblowing cost one doctor £550000

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 25 May 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:1240

Koos Stiekema, who delayed a clinical trial by revealing his worries about it to three ethics committees, tells Tony Sheldon how he thinks whistleblowers should be protected

Dutch former medical researcher Dr Koos Stiekema is convinced of the “potentially disastrous” effects for doctors working in industry after a court's decision to award huge damages against him for whistleblowing.

Dr Stiekema left the pharmaceutical company Organon after a dispute over the design of the PENTUA (pentasaccharide in unstable angina) study into the efficacy of a new anticoagulant, pentasaccharide. He then laid his serious concerns for the lives of the trial patients before the three independent medical ethics committees that were overseeing the study.

His actions led to a claim against him for a three month delay to the study, estimated at more than Embedded Image900000 (£550000; $827000). Despite facing financial ruin, he maintains: “Doctors employed by the pharmaceutical industry are obliged to do their utmost to reduce as much as possible any risk for patients participating in clinical trials.”

If a doctor is convinced that serious concerns cannot be conveyed internally, then Dr Stiekema sees “no other way” than informing independent medical ethics committees. “Whistleblowers should first of all be the company's doctors. They have to have the faces and families of patients in mind and should really ask themselves: ‘What if the subject was my wife or child?‘”

Last December a court in Amsterdam accepted Organon's claim that Dr Stiekema had not fulfilled his obligations to confidentiality laid out in his employment contract and had, by informing the medical …

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