As a sessional GP you may not feel comfortable raising concerns about a colleague, but patient safety comes first so it is important that you speak up, writes Charlotte Hudson, Content Editor at MPS.

You are a salaried GP in a busy practice. After three months you start to notice that the quality of care by one of your employing partners is substandard. Not only are you noticing this, but patients are also talking amongst themselves and to the secretaries.

What should you do?

If you come across a practitioner that you feel could potentially compromise patient care, you should bear in mind your professional obligation to protect patients from the risk of harm posed by another colleague’s performance, conduct or health. The GMC makes it clear that the safety of patients must come first at all times – this means that if you have concerns about a colleague, you must take prompt, appropriate action.

Overcoming obstacles to reporting

Deciding what to do when you have concerns about a colleague’s behaviour is always uncomfortable. In this particular situation you may be worried about raising concerns because they are about your employer.
In Raising and acting on concerns about patient safety, the GMC states reasons you may be reluctant to report a concern:

  • You fear that nothing will be done
  • Raising your concern may cause problems for colleagues
  • Raising your concern could have a negative effect on working relationships
  • It could have a negative effect on your career
  • It could result in a complaint about you.

MPS medicolegal consultant and sessional GP Rachel Birch said: “Whilst the above reasons may make you reluctant to raise concerns, you have an overriding duty to do so if there is a risk to patients. As well as having a duty as a doctor to raise concerns, you must also encourage and support a culture in which staff can raise concerns openly and safely. You should be guided by the question: if you let the situation continue is it likely to result in harm to others?”
The GMC says that if you are hesitant about reporting a concern you should bear in mind that you have a duty to put patients’ interests first and act to protect them, which overrides personal and professional loyalties.

Raising concerns

If you have reason to believe that patients are, or may be, at risk of death or serious harm for any reason, you should report your concern to the appropriate person or organisation immediately.
The GMC acknowledges that it is sometimes difficult to raise concerns within the practice, for example if your concern is about a partner, in which case it may be appropriate to raise it outside the practice – for example, with the medical director or clinical governance lead responsible for your organisation. Concerns should be made in writing and a clear record kept.

Next steps

If you feel that patients continue to be at risk, despite raising your concerns externally, MPS advises you to discuss the next steps with your medical defence organisation (MDO) in the first instance. MPS members can call our 24-hour medicolegal advice line on 0800 561 9090 to discuss any concerns and what to do next. Further information can be found on our Raising concerns and whistleblowing factsheet.

References

Charlotte Hudson

Writer and editor at MPS. MPS’s educational risk management workshops, ‘Mastering Professional Interactions’ and ‘Medical Records for GPs’ provide further information on the risks to patients and doctors when patient care passes between doctors, and on good record-keeping. They are free as a benefit of membership to MPS members too.

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