This site is intended for health professionals only

Now I’m not one to snitch

We all know which local GPs are rubbish, reckons Copperfield, so why do we keep schtum?

I'm writing this while Talk Sport plays in the corner, keeping me updated on the football, and in keeping with the moment I thought I'd consider the difficult topic of whistleblowers. Not referees, but GPs like you and me.

I've been in my job and in the same area for long enough to know who the good guys are around here – and which GPs I wouldn't let within 20 yards of a member of my family if they developed anything more complicated than a verruca.

I'm pretty sure that most of you would admit to being in a similar position. Which makes me wonder why most of us, myself included, have never once grassed up an under-performing doc. The statistics say that more than one in four of us are personally aware of a colleague whose performance might be impaired, but that fewer than one in five of us have ever referred one for a formal assessment.

Even Professor Steve Field, soon to leave the cardigan-clad Nirvana that is college HQ, reckons we should man up and start naming names.

So, what's stopping us?

Now, if any of us was to discover that a colleague was putting patients at risk through alcoholism or drug abuse or sexual predilections, then of course we couldn't just sit back and do nothing. But what about the run-of-the-mill stuff?

Here's a funny story. My practice recently drew up a new partnership agreement. Part of the deal was the insertion of a so-called ‘green socks' clause – basically, if a substantial majority agreed, any partner could be required to leave for no particular reason any stronger than a communal dislike of his or her choice of hosiery.

A perfectly sensible clause, you might think, designed to protect the partnership from the potentially damaging actions of a maverick medic.

Except that everybody managed to convince themselves that the ‘green socks' clause was being incorporated into the agreement solely to allow the other partners to get rid of them. It took hours to negotiate and reassure everyone that it wasn't their hosiery being targeted.

Yes. GPs really are that insecure. It's bad enough that patients and their families can take a pop at us (deserved or otherwise) at the drop of a hat. The thought that the practice down the road might be keeping a tally of the number of dubious antibiotic prescriptions we issue during out-of-hours shifts would simply be too much.

So it's no surprise that we're a bit backward in coming forward with concerns about colleagues' behaviour or competence. If their patients aren't complaining – and they are the people who actually know what goes on in the consulting room – why should we put our heads above the parapet?

Suspicion is one thing, evidence of malpractice or misdemeanour is very different. So, even if you're one of the guys down the road who I wouldn't trust to assess a sprained ankle, you can relax. I'm not coming after you. That is, of course, as long as you aren't coming after me.

'Sick Notes' by Dr Tony Copperfield is out now, available from Monday Books.

Click here for more from Copperfield Copperfield