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GPs could face 'trial by gossip' under Government database plans

By Gareth Iacobucci

Government plans to hold sensitive information about doctors on a national database may undermine confidence in the profession, a medical defence body has warned.

The plans would allow the Government to collect and share so-called ‘soft' information and details of clinical negligence claims against GPs.

The details, outlined in Tackling Concerns Locally, Report of the Information Management subgroup, were described by the Medical Protection Society (MPS) as ‘deeply concerning'.

Under the proposals, potentially sensitive data could be collected, stored and shared from a range of sources, including informal concerns raised by patients or colleagues, formal complaints and concerns from patients, carers and colleagues, and clinical negligence claims.

Information could also be gleaned from health issues which may affect performance, adverse events, investigations or informal warnings.

Plans to gather ‘soft' information - defined in the report as an informal expression of concern (oral or written) about a doctor, caused particular concern, with the MPS questioning whether these could be objectively and fairly investigated.

Dr Stephanie Bown, director of communications and policy at MPS, said: ‘We are deeply concerned about the plans to hold and share ‘soft' information and details of clinical negligence claims against individual healthcare professionals.'

‘Sharing and collating relevant information is crucial to protect patients, but it is important to distinguish between information that legitimately flags up potential threats to patient safety and information gathered from unsubstantiated sources, gossip and personal opinion. It takes many years to build a reputation, and only days to destroy it.'

Dr Bown also questioned the value of holding details about clinical negligence claims against doctors.

She added: ‘MPS has dealt with thousands of clinical negligence claims against doctors and we believe that they are not a good indicator of poor clinical practice. Many claims can be unfounded or vexatious. We will continue to strongly oppose any plans to hold details about clinical negligence claims.'

‘We also urge the Department of Health to include stringent safeguards to protect innocent healthcare professionals from being unfairly labelled as potential risks to patients.'

Following consultation with interested parties, the plans will be subject to local implementation - supported by more detailed operational guidance and regulations to be introduced by the Department of Health later this year.

Health Minister Ben Bradshaw said: ‘Our overriding priority is to ensure that patients and the public are protected. The recommendations outlined will put in place the best systems, both locally and nationally, to identify and address concerns about individual professional conduct and competence.'

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