By Gareth Iacobucci
Plans to allow the Government to collect and share details of negligence claims against GPs on a national database are to be debated after the launch of a consultation on the issue.
The controversial plans, which medical defence bodies have described as ‘deeply concerning', could see potentially sensitive data collected, stored and shared from a variety of sources, including formal or informal concerns raised by patients or colleagues, and clinical negligence claims.
The Government aims to place a ‘duty of cooperation' on employers and trusts to act on information in their possession where a GP or a healthcare worker's conduct or performance suggests a risk to patient safety.
The plan is the latest phase of the Government's Tackling Concerns Locally scheme, taking forward policies outlined in the White Paper and the Government's response to the Shipman Inquiry.
If accepted, the proposal would create new regulations in England to require bodies to co-operate with one another on:
• Sharing information about the performance or conduct of healthcare workers with other designated bodies (typically, other health or social care organisations but also for instance the professional regulators) where they judge that there is a potential risk to patient safety.
• Providing information in response to requests from other designated bodies for information about the conduct or performance of healthcare workers.
• Considering any issues which arise as a result of the sharing or provision of information and taking steps following such consideration.
The consultation acknowledges concerns that GPs will be subject to 'trial by gossip', but recommends that patient safety be considered the overriding principle.
It said: ‘We took the view that the protection of the patient must be the ultimate objective but that this should be done in such a way as to provide every possible safeguard for the reputation of the health professional.'
Launching the consultation, health minister Ann Keen said: ‘Our overriding priority is to ensure that patients and the public are protected.'
‘We believe the proposed duty of co-operation set out in the regulations will put in place the best system to identify and address concerns about individual competence.'
‘Healthcare workers should be reassured that information will be shared in a fair and transparent way with appropriate safeguards such as proper record keeping and their involvement in local investigation processes.'
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