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GP whistleblowers should be given same rights as other workers says expert commission

Existing legislation must be changed to protect GP whistleblowers to the same extent as other workers in the UK, a new report has recommended.

The report, published by the Whistleblowing Commission, calls on the Government to strengthen and clarify legal protection for whistleblowers under the 1998 Public Interest Disclosure Act (PIDA) and update and broaden the definition of ‘worker’ in the Act to include doctors, student nurses, social workers and health care workers among others.

There is currently ambiguity over whether GPs are covered by the act when they make allegations about colleagues to primary care organisations, and this is the subject of an ongoing employment tribunal.  

The commission, an independent body made up of industry and academic experts, launched a public consultation in March, which received 142 responses from employers, regulators, MPs, campaigning organisations and whistleblowers.

It recommended that the Government should add ‘General Practitioners in the health service, regardless of their contractual arrangement’ to the category of workers protected by the PIDA.  

It follows a landmark case reported in Pulse in which a GP has been given the go-ahead to take her health board to an employment tribunal for failing to protect her from reprisals after she raised concerns about her partner’s prescribing.

Dr Margaret Ferguson, a GP partner in Pembrokeshire, Wales, alleged that the Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board released her name to fellow GP partners at a previous practice after she raised concerns that one of her colleagues had ‘acted wrongly’ in prescribing a strong opiate.

She claimed the board failed in its duty to protect her legal rights as a whistleblower, thereby exposing her to reprisals from her colleagues.

Legal experts said the ongoing tribunal will challenge the orthodoxy that ‘oversight’ primary care organisations have no duty to protect GP partners from reprisals from within their own practice when they make allegations against fellow partners.

A survey of 470 doctors by the Medical Defence Union earlier this year found GPs are more worried about whistleblowing than other doctors, with 25% saying they face barriers to raising a concern, compared with only 14% for all doctors.

Responding to the publication of the Whistleblowing Commission report, Dr Mark Porter, chair of BMA Council, said: ‘While the publication of the commission’s report is welcome the BMA feels that the focus must be on the application of good practice at a local level and the development of greater awareness amongst staff of local policies.’

‘However, the commission’s recommendation that GPs and student healthcare workers, including doctors, be covered by PIDA, is something we feel the Government should take forward, as well as their recommendation against the introduction of financial incentives for whistleblowing.’

’It is vital to empower doctors and to create a supportive culture where they are encouraged to raise concerns and, just as importantly, where they know those concerns will be listened to and acted on.’

The commission also called on the Government to adopt a code of practice that sets out clear standards for organisations across all sectors to enable them to have clear whistleblowing arrangements, which would be taken into account in whistleblowing cases before courts and tribunals.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Response from NHSE to a recent request for information about whether GPs, as non employees, are covered by PIDA......
    Our Corporate Governance Team have advised me that our policy adheres to the requirements of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 and that GPs are covered by this. The protection available to GPs is outlined in the Act and in our policy which was attached to our previous response.

    If you have any further questions, it may be useful to note that the current whistleblowing policy was developed by the Policy Directorate of NHS England and is overseen by the Director of Corporate Development whose details are publically available via the recently published NHS England organogram (http://data.gov.uk/organogram/nhs-england)

    Yours Sincerely,

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  • It should be clear and obvious that whistle blowing is contrary to and unacceptable in British culture.
    Not only will the GP engaging in this contumacy lose his / her job; be vilified and slander beyond redemption; but the GMC will hound you relentlessly (which usually include bankrupting you), until you are dead. I do not say this lightly... and I can say it without fear of legal reprisal as I have said it more than once in the High Court with the GMC's Counsel being eerily quit and not raising any objection, because they know I was speaking the truth.
    All this talk about the right to whistle-blow is nothing more than empty rhetoric until the Rule of Law has been re-established in regulation and extortionists (to the amount of £100 million a year) like the GMC abolished.

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  • instead of talking in theoretical terms about ' protection from detriment' there needs to be greater clarity about what this means in practice.
    At present the BMA and Medical defence organisations speak in supportive terms but when it comes to actually needing legal help or advice regarding , they claim that it is not included in our subscriptions.
    I believe that Dr Margaret Ferguson, cited above, has had to fund her legal case herself. This is shameful.
    Who actually is tasked with coming into the practice and sorting out the mess and tragedy that whistleblowing engenders in a practice?
    Before I would encourage anyone to come forward as a whistleblower in gen practice and risk the current heartache and career implications , I would want to know who is responsible for what ?
    enough of the platitudes and more pragmatic solutions ! where is this ' protection' to come from ?

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