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Doctors should to be held to account for behaviour of colleagues, say MPs

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d4794 (Published 26 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4794

Rapid Response:

"The GMC to encourage whistleblowing" - anyone believe it?

The House of Commons Health Select Committee believes that the GMC
should send a clear signal to doctors that they must report concerns about
a fellow doctor.[1] My experiences suggest that the GMC itself has been
involved in concealing misconduct.

As chair of the medical committee of a government recognised national
organisation, I reported a group of doctors, because the committee had
concerns about their research.[2] It involved injecting a radioactive
isotope into patients suffering from a neurological illness. Before
investigating the allegations, the GMC investigated me for the counter-
charge of disparaging the doctors. The GMC investigated the allegations
against the doctors only after clearing me, but allowed the two most
senior doctors to voluntarily remove their names from the Medical
Register, which meant that the charges that they had covered up misconduct
could not be investigated. The GMC then confirmed that ethics committee
and ARSAC approvals had not been obtained. No consent forms were
available. It was stated that patients were only asked to give verbal
consent. The GMC decided that it was unable to adjudicate on allegations
of data fabrication because the authors failed to produce the data. Many
might consider failure to produce data at the request of the GMC prima
facia evidence of falsification. The GMC held no public hearing and issued
no public statement. The senior doctors involved, including a medical
professor and a consultant in nuclear medicine, who told the GMC that they
did not understand the requirements for ethics approval and for
administration of radioactive isotopes, were given private warnings and
advice.

In 2002, Dr Clive Handler was suspended from the Medical Register
after I reported him to the GMC for financial misconduct.[2,3] Dr Handler
had left Northwick Park Hospital in 1998 after an inquiry there revealed
the misconduct. The GMC was informed that a severance agreement between
the hospital and Dr Handler included an agreement not to inform the police
or the GMC. The hospital trust board, including the Medical Director,
Professor Peter Richards approved the agreement. At the time Professor
Richards was a GMC member. When Dr Handler appeared before the
Professional Conduct Committee, Professor Richards was the Committee's
chairman and I was amazed to witnessed the bizarre conduct of a
dysfunctional organisation. Professor Richards had to stand-down from
hearing the case because of his involvement in the cover-up. Despite that,
Professor Richards returned to chairing subsequent PCC hearings.

The messages from these cases are clear. Ordinary doctors who report
misconduct may be victimised by the GMC and the GMC tolerates its own
members concealing crime.

The Health Select Committee should be asking "quis custodiet ipsos
custodes?"

References

1. Jacques H. Doctors should be held to account for behaviour of
colleagues, say MPs. BMJ 2011;343:d4794.

2. Wilmshurst P. Dishonesty in medical research. Medico-Legal Journal
2007;75:3-12.

3. Dyer C. GMC hearing reveals how doctor won deal to have earlier inquiry
documents destroyed. BMJ 325 : 1189 doi: 10.1136/bmj.325.7374.1189/a

Competing interests: I have reported concerns about conduct of other doctors.

22 August 2011
Peter T Wilmshurst
Consultant Cardiologist
Royal Shrewsbury Hospital