NHS gagging restrictions good news, but would-be whistleblowers need support
Encouraging doctors to speak out about poor standards of care is at the heart of new guidelines from the General Medical Council, but will they have an impact?
The guidelines state that doctors should not sign gagging orders with their employers that stop them from raising concerns about inadequate treatment of patients (BBC). Doctors have routinely been made to sign such contracts, so that if they resign after a dispute with the NHS trust, they are unable to talk about unsafe practices that they have witnessed.
The lack of transparency in the NHS has been an on-going problem and as a clinical negligence solicitor, it's pleasing to see that the General Medical Council is trying to address it. However, as well as restricting contracts that forbid doctors from whistleblowing, there needs to be safety guards in place to protect those that do speak out.
There have been well publicised cases of medics being sacked for highlighting poor care, so if doctors are reluctant to come forward, then it is hardly surprising. This situation is clearly wrong, as patient care can quite often be a case of life and death, and when it goes the wrong, the impact can be devastating. Birth injuries, brain damage and losing the ability to walk are just some of the injuries we see as a result of bad practices.
If there is a culture of neglect and apathy towards the needs of patients in hospitals and surgeries, then healthcare workers need to feel that they can voice their concerns, without the fear of a backlash. This will require a step change for the NHS, but with high level reforms on the cards, now could be a good time to turn the tide.