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GPs need better training in mental health and should be under an 'express' obligation to report concerns about colleagues, a major inquiry has concluded after finding GPs had not acted upon complaints.

The Department of Health inquiry, into consultant psychiatrists William Kerr and Michael Haslam, who were convicted of one and four indecent assaults respectively, in Yorkshire during the 1970s and 1980s, found GPs had routinely failed to report complaints about the two men.

The inquiry heard that GPs at one practice knew Haslam had sex with vulnerable female patients, but were told by him it was part of their treatment and did not believe an illegal act had occurred.

The report conceded that a culture to enable GPs to whistleblow had improved since the complaints were made, but said much more must be done.

It recommended all frontline staff who receive complaints about patient safety be under an 'express obligation to report that matter to a complaints manager, whether or not they work for the organisation named in the complaint'.

The inquiry said it also remained concerned about a lack of understanding about psychiatry among GPs and said the GP curriculum 'should be reviewed to ensure sufficient focus is given to the needs, treatment and care of patients experiencing mental health problems and illnesses'.

It added: 'All GPs should have some exposure to

psychiatry.'

In chronicling the activities of Kerr and Haslam, the report said GPs' failure to pass on complaints from patients was an 'unhealthy culture'.

The inquiry's findings come just two weeks after the launch of a collaborative designed to spread best practice in mental health by the National Primary Care Development Team.

Dr Alan Cohen, clinical chair of the collaborative and a GP in south London, said its agenda was similar to the inquiry's recommendations.

'The collaborative will apply the training that GPs receive during postgraduate years and their continuing medical education in an effective and innovative fashion,' he said. He said he agreed staff have an obligation in whatever field they work to report issues of concern such as abuse.

Dr John Givans, secretary of North Yorkshire LMC, which advised doctors involved in the inquiry, said

he believed the unquestioning culture in medicine had changed.

By Joe Lepper

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