THE BLOG

Whistleblowing: The GMC's Acute Confusional State

18/06/2013 16:37 BST | Updated 17/08/2013 10:12 BST

The General Medical Council is the UK's medical regulatory body, helmed by the unaccountable ex-BBC health journalist, Mr Niall Dickson.

Despite Health Select Committee [HSC] and CHRE reviews, the GMC effectively remains unaccountable, possibly because these two organisations have prior alliances with it. Sweeping important matters under the carpet does not resolve the real failures of the GMC - it continues to fail the public and good doctors. For an overview of the GMC's structure and relevant precedents, refer to the article "How does the General Medical Council Work" .

Its failure to maintain patient safety is illustrated in the hundreds of legal cases brought against it. In R v GMC Ex Parte Toth, for example , the GMC allowed a doctor to retire on a full pension rather than face allegations.

The Shipman Inquiry summarised their failures, and the cases of Beryl Walters and Dr Jane Barton (whose brother served on the GMC committee) show they have not improved. Barton was allowed to voluntarily erase herself, with an NHS pension, despite prescribing hazardous drugs at the cost of many patients.

Dr Peter Wilmshurst, an NHS consultant, once told the Independent:

"The GMC has a difficult job dealing with so many complaints, which it is not doing very well. It... is run by amateurs rather than legal experts. It needs a complete overhaul so that disciplinary matters are considered by a completely independent body."

Having escaped scrutiny by the Mid Staffordshire Inquiry, the HSC grudgingly admitted :-

"16. The Committee recognises, however that doctors and other practitioners who have raised concerns by other staff have sometimes been subject to suspension, dismissal or other sanctions"

Having been backed into a corner on whistleblowing, the GMC has finally announced support thereof . This from an organisation that has persecuted countless whistleblowers and refuses to conduct a Whistleblowing Consultation. They wrote:

"Thank you for your email of 9 November 2011. Sorry for the slight delay in getting back to you. My email of 4 November referred to the recent public consultation on Good Medical Practice. This included a doctor's wider responsibilities in relation to employment issues including acting upon patient safety concerns. I can confirm that at the present time we have no plans to hold a consultation specifically upon Whistleblowing"

In reality, their position is confused: the GMC doesn't understand whistleblowing, and is often used by Trusts as an instrument of victimisation. We wrote "Role of the General Medical Council" in the paper Whistleblowing and Patient Safety. To date, the GMC has failed to respond.

We wrote:-

"There have been cases where the GMC has investigated and in some cases prosecuted doctors who have raised legitimate concerns."

"Essentially, the doctor is 'damned if they do and damned if they don't' report their concerns. The current situation is at best confusing where it appears that a doctor's registration can be held over their head like a 'Sword of Damocles' if they do blow the whistle, but conversely doctors have been investigated, or sanctioned, for failing to whistleblow. The GMC may not act even when those who failed to report concerns must have known they should have done so, because they were themselves members of the GMC."

Whistleblowers frequently complain about the destructive impact of a GMC investigation - destroyed references, loss of employment, difficulties in obtaining further employment are common. They describe their lives and careers being shattered and irrecoverable. Typically, when the doctor raises a patient safety concern, their hospital, in turn, reports them to the GMC. The GMC regularly prioritises persecution of the whistleblower, while neglecting the patient safety concerns. By the time the whistleblower has cleared themselves, its too late to investigate the patient safety issues.

Dr Peter Wilmshurst outlined the failings of the GMC in his article "A Personal View" He commented

"My experience of the GMC being used to try to silence a whistle blower is not unique. ... In my opinion, the evidence suggests that the medical profession cannot be trusted to regulate itself."

Negin Shamsian v GMC involved a junior doctor and vindicated whistleblower who was subsequently maliciously referred to the GMC. Untangling herself from their bureaucracy took years, seriously damaging her bright career.Eventually beating them in the High Court, she was free to rebuild the fragments of her career.

My own case, Pal v GMC, involved my report of patient safety issues from North Staffordshire NHS Trust and resulted in the judiciary describing the GMC as "totalitarian".

Even today, despite local reports upholding my concerns, the GMC has not investigated them. No doctor was held to account. Instead, they persecuted me for a decade through absurd investigations that I was forced to defend and defeat.

Other cases include the famous R v General Medical Council Ex Parte Cream. and that of Mr Robert Phipps who raised concerns about the standard of cancer treatment at Bradford Royal Infirmary. Dr Otto Chan another whistleblower writes on his website

"A note of warning is that it is especially dangerous to whistleblow to certain organisations, in particular CHI, NCAS, Royal Colleges and even The GMC. You might think that these bodies would be supportive, because whistleblowing is supposed to be a positive process and these organisations are committed to a high standard of care. But alas this is not the experience of most whistleblowers"

Sian Caiach's case yet another whistleblower investigated by the GMC told the BBC

"I'm obviously happy about being able to practise again... but I am upset as what has happened to me will put off a lot of people from making disclosures about things which are going wrong because they are afraid they will lose their career. It is very much a shoot the messenger culture in the NHS. I didn't kill anyone or harm anyone. All I did was complain about my colleagues."

So, doctors, whistleblow at your peril.