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News NHS in Crisis

Managers must respond to doctors’ patient safety concerns, GMC says

BMJ 2017; 356 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j160 (Published 10 January 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;356:j160
  1. Tom Moberly
  1. The BMJ

Doctors must continue to highlight risks to the safety of patients as pressure on services mounts,1 and health service managers must respond to these concerns, the UK General Medical Council has said.

Charlie Massey, the GMC’s chief executive, said that the regulator recognised that doctors across the United Kingdom were doing their utmost to maintain standards of care for patients. “They are telling us that there is unprecedented demand on services and that concerted action is now needed to address this,” he said. “As the body which oversees medical education and training across the UK, we are concerned by what doctors are telling us.”

Massey said that the GMC would respond to evidence that patient safety was being put at risk. “We have no role in determining how taxpayers’ money should be spent in the health service, but we do have a responsibility to ensure hospitals are a safe training environment for doctors and patients, and we will act where we receive firm evidence that this is not happening,” he said. “We would urge all doctors to raise and report concerns about patient safety, and we expect those responsible for running services to listen and respond to those concerns.”

John Holden, joint head of the medical division of the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland, said that doctors should, at all times, work within their own competence. They should not, he said, feel pressured to take on an unmanageable volume of work or tasks they believed to be beyond their expertise and that might affect patient safety.

“Doctors who believe that patient safety is being compromised as a result of extra pressures and lack of resources should follow GMC guidance on raising and acting on concerns about patient safety,” Holden said.

Caroline Fryar, head of advisory services at the Medical Defence Union, said that doctors had an ethical duty to act promptly if they thought that patients’ safety, dignity, or comfort might be seriously compromised by inadequate resources. She said, “It’s worth discussing your concerns with a medicolegal expert at your medical defence organisation, who can advise you on what steps to take.”

A spokeswoman for the BMA said that Health Education England had placed a provision in the new contract for junior doctors that allowed doctors to take HEE to court without fear of any detrimental effect on their careers.

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