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GMC stresses duty to report poor care

New guidance stops gagging clauses and reiterates duty to report concerns

Louise Prime

Thursday, 26 January 2012

The General Medical Council has today issued guidance to protect doctors from ‘gagging clauses’ in their contracts, and reminded them of their obligation to report concerns over substandard patient care.

The GMC’s new guidance Raising and acting on concerns about patient safety makes it clear that doctors must not sign any type of contract or agreement that contains clauses designed to prevent them from raising concerns about poor quality of care. GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said: “These clauses are totally unacceptable. Doctors who sign such contracts are breaking their professional obligations and are putting patients, and their careers, at risk.”

Doctors are reminded in the GMC guidance that they are duty-bound to take action if they think that a patient’s safety is being jeopardised, or if they believe that patients’ care or dignity is at risk. The guidance elucidates when doctors should report their concerns, and also explains what help and support are available when they do so.

Further GMC guidance released today advises doctors on their responsibilities regarding patient safety and wellbeing when working in non-clinical and managerial situations. Leadership and management for all doctors covers employment matters, teaching and training, and planning, using and managing resources.

Niall Dickson said: “Being a good doctor involves more than simply being a good clinician. It means being committed to improving the quality of services and being willing to speak up when things are not right – that is not always easy but it is at the heart of medical professionalism.

“Healthcare today is seldom an isolated affair and using the eyes and ears of health professionals can be the most effective way of protecting patients and ensuring high quality care.

“Our new guidance also makes clear that doctors must not sign contracts that attempt to prevent them from raising concerns with professional regulators such as the GMC and systems regulators, such as the CQC. Nor must doctors in management roles promote such contracts or encourage other doctors to sign them. Those who promote or sign such agreements are breaking their professional obligations and putting their careers at risk.”

Both sets of guidance will take effect on Monday 12 March.

A third set of GMC guidelines out today, on writing references, has not significantly changed since their 2007 issue.

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