Anthony Omo, the GMC’s Director of Fitness to Practise and General Counsel, talks about our response to the Hooper Review and the support available for whistleblowers.

Doctors must make the care of their patients their first concern. This is at the heart of our guidance and of what it means to be a good doctor.

That means taking action if patient care is compromised and speaking up if the conduct or behaviour of other health professionals puts patients at risk.

Speaking up can be a daunting prospect even for a self-confident professional. However the risks to patients of failing to act must outweigh these concerns.

Doctors must be able to raise concerns without fear of reprisal. This is essential if our health service is to deliver safe, open and compassionate care for patients.

Our Hooper Review action plan

That’s why we asked Sir Anthony Hooper QC to undertake an independent review of how we deal with doctors referred to us, and who may have raised concerns in the public interest.

Sir Anthony’s review, which was published in March, included eight recommendations to better support whistleblowers, encourage an open and transparent culture and make sure our procedures are fair to those who raise concerns in the public interest.

We have now published our response to Sir Anthony’s review, in our action plan. This outlines how we will consider each recommendation in his report including:

  • Reviewing the processes and guidance we follow when we receive a complaint about a doctor, so we can check if he or she has raised concerns and take this into account;
  • Training our teams to understand whistleblowing;
  • Considering how we can encourage employers and responsible officers to confirm whether the doctor being referred is a whistleblower;
  • Facilitating discussion with other regulators and organisations about a confidential online tool so healthcare professionals can record concerns raised.

Existing tools and resources

We have started work on our action plan, but we also have tools and resources to help doctors raise concerns right now.

In 2012 we launched a confidential helpline for doctors who feel unable to raise concerns at a local level. We have trained advisors who can take forward information about doctors or organisations and can signpost other sources of support and advice.

The helpline has received more than 2,000 calls since December 2012. Of these 189 were whistleblower enquiries leading to 102 investigations.

We also have a strong relationship with the whistleblowing charity Public Concern at Work which provides free, confidential legal advice to these callers on our behalf.

Also in 2012 we published guidance to help doctors know what to do when patient care could be compromised and an online decision making tool to take doctors through the process.

In June this year, we launched our new duty of candour guidance which outlines new duties for healthcare professionals. This includes encouraging a culture of learning and development where concerns can be raised. We are also developing other resources, such as case studies and decision making tools, to help doctors put these important principles into practice.

We know that doctors who raise concerns need to be better supported in the future. However developing an open and transparent culture across the health service is not something that medical regulation can achieve alone.
So we will continue to work with other regulators, medical defence bodies and organisations across the health service to keep our procedures and practices up to date with the challenges doctors on the front line face when blowing the whistle on poor patient care.

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