A renowned Urologist constructively dismissed for whistleblowing says promises of protection for doctors are repeatedly broken. 

Dr Peter Duffy, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust’s Doctor of the Year, said there has never been a more dangerous time for frontline NHS staff to consider speaking up in defence of patients.

Dr Duffy reported three of his colleagues to the Care Quality Commission in 2015 over failures that resulted in patients suffering kidney failure and in one case left a Barrow man permanently impotent.

Dr Duffy won his case for unfair constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal but is reported to have told the hearing that “all three levels of supposed protection—the NHS itself, regulators, and the law—are failing whistleblowers.”

What are the duties and protections in place for whistleblowing doctors?

A duty to report

Doctors have a duty to report concerns about patient safety.

The GMC’s guidance states:

“All doctors have a duty to raise concerns where they believe that patient safety or care is being compromised by the practice of colleagues or the systems, policies and procedures in the organisations in which they work. They must also encourage and support a culture in which staff can raise concerns openly and safely.”

The GMC’s guidance is clear that doctors must not enter into contracts with employers who wants to prevent doctors from reporting concerns:

“You must not enter into contracts or agreements with your employing or contracting body that seek to prevent you from or restrict you in raising concerns about patient safety. Contracts or agreements are void if they intend to stop an employee from making a protected disclosure.”

Protection for doctors

Under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, doctors are protected in law if they disclose information about malpractice at their workplace, or former workplace, provided certain conditions are met. The conditions concern the nature of the information disclosed and the person to whom it is disclosed. 

The GMC is a Prescribed Person under the Public Interest Disclosure (Prescribed Persons) Order 2014 so those who make a whistleblowing disclosure to us which is relevant to our statutory functions will receive legal protection provided they hold a reasonable belief that the information disclosed is true. 

If these conditions are met, the Act protects the worker from suffering detriment as a result of having made the disclosure. If the conditions are not met a disclosure may constitute a breach of the worker’s duty of confidence to his employer. 

The GMC has also issued advice to doctor trainees:

 “Doctors in training may also raise concerns with the GMC about their place of training. However only those with a working relationship with the organisation about which they are raising concerns will be protected from detriment or dismissal under whistleblowing legislation.”

Stephen McCaffrey

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