GPs are likely to shun call to report their mistakes
GPs will be under no obligation to use a new clinical incident reporting system being rolled out across England and Wales this year.
The National Patient Safety Agency's National Reporting and Learning System, to be introduced to every PCT by the end of the year, will also be used in hospitals to give the whole of the NHS a 'memory' of poor practice.
In an initial pilot of the system there were only 32 incident reports from primary care out of a total of nearly 29,000 reports.
Dr Maureen Baker, director of primary care at the agency, said GPs whose practices already had significant event auditing in place would find the transition simple, but she expected a large number of GPs would opt out of the system.
The system has been developed along the lines of voluntary incident reporting systems used by the airline industry.
It operates through the internet as an anonymous way for GPs to report 'adverse events' as well as 'near misses' but GPs are encouraged to identify themselves to their PCO.
The agency said the information collected would not be used to investigate individual incidents or be used in any disciplinary action.
The most recent study estimated there were currently between five and 80 medical errors per 100,000 GP consultations, said Dr Baker, a former GP.
'I'm sure that figure is a vast underestimate,' she told a conference in Manchester.