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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Are GPs averse to blowing the whistle?

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The generic definition of ‘whistleblowing’ is defined as ‘the raising of concerns by employees, past employees or members of an organisation to people with the power and inclination to correct the issue.’ On the few occasions that such behaviour has involved healthcare professionals in the past, however, it would not be too sweeping a generalisation to say that the outcome has been negative. I’m not going to delve into the details here, I’m sure a quick browse online using the terms ‘Baby P’, ‘Winterbourne View’ and ‘undercover nurse’ should provide you with a wealth of bedtime reading.

Yet, if you search Googlefor well-publicised examples of GPs who have raised concerns affecting patient care, they are hard to come by. I wonder why that is. Maybe all general practitioners are wonderfully competent and so there is no need for whistleblowing.  Earlier this year though, Pulse ran a story about a GP partner in Pembrokeshire, Wales who had experienced significant reprisal after she raised concerns. So we know that it does happen, but what I’d like to know is how GPs feel about raising concerns? At first, do no harm – but is this made less of a priority if it might do harm to oneself?

We all know about Francis QC’s plea for ‘transparency, honesty and candour’ in the National Health Service. Yet, we have also heard a number of individuals speak out about the significant alienation, retaliation and reprisal experienced after acting on their consciences. I’m currently in support of always raising concerns where one believes that patient care or safety may be compromised. There is a strong possibility though that my view is largely influenced by the fact that I have not climbed high enough in my career yet – of course, there is less far to fall.

Chantal Cox-George blogs from the perspective of a medical student interested in general practice. Use the hashtag #nextgenerationGP to join in the conversation and follow her @NextgenGP

Readers' comments (7)

  • I worked in primary care performance for a PCT for 4 years, covering an area with approximately 80 GP surgeries.

    During that time a grand total of zero GPs whistleblew or did anything to volunteer concerns or issues despite several major performance issues coming to light, at which point partners and neighbors would highlight their long standing concerns.

    A conspiracy of silence would perhaps be too harsh a label, but it does seem that reporting concerns over a colleague's performance is not part of the culture of primary care.

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  • In my experience GPs will do everything to cover-up the mistakes of others who have done substantial harm to their patient. They will falsify records, and even refer the patient back to the service that harmed them, to prove that they right, and keep everything quiet, rather than rock the boat by raising concerns. Is it cowardly - the best interests of the patient, are the lowest concern on their list of priorities. This is why patients want autonomy and to be 'custodians of their own health budgets'.

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  • Trust me, if you blow the whistle as a GP, your life and that of your family will be blown to pieces! And the CCG will help accelerate the process!!!

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  • Being in a situation of whistle blowing dissapointingly it is still not resolved 2 years later even though intensive there has been an investigation and compliance by the whistle blower leaves them feeling whats the point so it may not be cover up or lack of wanting too its the time involved the legal snags it can incur even when a case is about safety and proven to be so the layers of what ifs are too many.

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  • Every organisation ...Health Board or CCG, BMA GMC RCGP and medical defence organisations all do good sound bites about the merits of whistleblowing . So what process is in place to avoid reprisal or backlash in practical terms? What do they actually do ?
    It is much easier for the concerns, or the whistle blower, to just disappear than to sort out the venom and fury of the indignant lobby that pulls ranks around a fallen comrade.
    Until genuine whistle blowers are generally recognised as being brave and principled people who are critical to the safety of patients, rather than unpleasant snitches who give the game away, they continue to be targets.
    The same sad pattern described in ' How to skin a whistle blower' is repeated over and over....ie
    *ignore them
    *do a pathetic investigation
    *don't tell anyone the results if they find true failings
    *marginalise the w/blower
    *tell their colleagues who the snitch was
    *vilify and degrade the whistle-blower and if that doesn't work :
    *find some muck to throw at them until you can force them out

    It is a sad and ever repeated tale.

    What are the BMA,GMC,RCGP defence organisations actually doing about it??..........they seem to continue to look the other way, while reiterating the 'we support the whistle blower mantra '

    It has to stop and the profession as a whole has to force these hallowed organisations to get together and work out a proper strategy.

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  • Setphen Bolsin had to move to Australia after the Bristol heart scandal whistleblowing.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Bolsin

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  • I blew the whistle on a partner who, as a result, is no longer registered with the GMC.
    Despite a full, independent, investigation which concluded that he was not up to standard in any area of the GMC good practice guidelines, the consequences for me were apauling.

    Vilified by colleagues
    Practice staff bullied me, sent me to Coventry, deliberately caused trouble for me and my other partners simply watched.
    Reputation locally as "trouble"
    No support from anyone, no calls to see if I was alright, no counselling. Not one single call to check on me from medical director, PCT, appraiser or local colleagues. My immediate colleagues did not want to be associated with me and kept their distance.
    Threats from my appraiser that I would be referred to the GMC if I did not take my concerns further and if I did not tell them everything. Threats to others of GMC referral for not reporting the concerns sooner.

    The investigation took nearly a year, the bullying continued for two.

    During this time I became severely depressed, anxious with panic attacks and PTSD like symptoms and occasional suicidal thoughts.

    The effect on my family was profound.

    Although I was able to repair the relationship with immediate colleagues to a large degree, I have left my
    Partnership and general practice altogether.

    I would never, ever, go through this again and would prefer to have nothing to do with general practice than run this risk.

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