MPs insist that NHS whistleblowers are protected

Authors: Adrian O’Dowd 

Publication date:  09 Mar 2012

Clinicians who raise concerns about professional standards at their place of work must be protected from any resulting disciplinary action, MPs have said.

MPs on the House of Commons health select committee have called for guarantees that doctors who blow the whistle about poor practice should not be subjected to punitive action as a consequence.

The committee published a report on 7 March after the responses given by government and four healthcare regulatory bodies—Nursing and Midwifery Council, General Medical Council, Care Quality Commission, and Monitor—to annual accountability hearings held by the committee in 2011.

The committee heard at an evidence session held in December last year that “doctors and other practitioners who have raised concerns about other staff have sometimes been subject to suspension, dismissal, or other sanctions.”

That session had followed media reports that doctors were being asked, as part of the termination of employment process, to sign clauses in compromise agreements that were alleged to be inconsistent with the obligations of doctors to raise concerns about the quality of practice within the employing organisation with their regulator the General Medical Council.

The three NHS organisations that had been identified as entering into such agreements all told the committee that they had reviewed the situation and would no longer use such provisions.

In addition, Gavin Larner, director of professional standards at the Department of Health, had told the committee that such clauses were inconsistent with the Public Interest Disclosure Act and were unacceptable.

The health select committee report says: “There is a consensus here that we need to encourage people to speak out. With anything that hits against that, and in particular that crosses the act, we need to make sure the service understands its responsibilities.

“The committee also continues to believe that there is an essential public interest in ensuring that professionals are protected against punitive action when they raise concerns about professional standards at their place of work.”

Since the GMC appeared before the committee it has sent guidance to all doctors on the medical register making clear that they have a duty to raise concerns if they believe patients are at risk and stating that doctors must not enter into contracts or agreements that prevent or restrict them from raising concerns about patient safety.

In the report, MPs also welcome a commitment from the General Medical Council that it was still treating the introduction of a system of revalidation for all doctors by late 2012 as its number one priority.

However, MPs warned that there must be early public notice if the regulator believed that delivery of the timetable was at risk.

The GMC has welcomed the committee’s report, emphasising that it shares the committee’s commitment to delivering validation and is “on track” to introduce it later this year.

  • The health select committee report Annual accountability hearings: responses and further issues is available online at: [Link] .

More on the regulators’ accountability hearings

  • Doctors should be held to account for behaviour of colleagues, say MPs. BMJ Careers 27 Jul 2011. [Link] .

  • Compromise agreements should not be used to gag whistleblowers, say MPs. BMJ Careers 10 Dec 2011. [Link] .

  • GMC bans doctors from signing contracts containing “gagging” clauses. BMJ Careers 26 Jan 2012. [Link] .

Adrian O’Dowd London

Cite this as BMJ Careers ; doi: