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No cover-up for misdeeds of even very senior doctors, urges whistleblower

Medical establishment still ‘protecting’ its own, to detriment of patients, he argues

Caroline White

Friday, 19 April 2013

The medical establishment should stop “protecting” its own and covering up the misdeeds of senior doctors, argues a whistleblower in a personal view published in this week’s BMJ.

No matter how senior they are, no doctor can be “untouchable,” if health services genuinely want to put the needs of their patients first, argues cardiologist Dr Peter Wilmshurst, of the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, and a veteran whistleblower himself.

The medical establishment “is no different” to other organisations that have covered up misconduct— the BBC over Jimmy Savile, the Catholic church over child abuse by priests, and the South Yorkshire Police over their failings at the Hillsborough disaster, he argues.

He cites various cases in which he considered the relevant authorities failed to act.

“Once when I raised concerns at a meeting at the Department of Health about a senior doctor, I was even told that he was untouchable,” he writes. And an attempt to raise the issue with the Chief Medical Officer about the same doctor prompted a letter from the Department in November 2012 saying that the CMO was too busy to discuss the matter, he says.

“..in my experience [the General Medical Council] will often refuse to investigate the most senior doctors,” he says. For example, medical director Professor Peter Richards returned to chair GMC hearings after failing to report financial misconduct by another doctor, so breaking the GMC’s own rules on reporting misconduct by other doctors, he says.

In another case, Professor Peter Collins did not face a public hearing for claiming false qualifications, yet six junior doctors were removed from the medical register for similar misconduct, he says.

And despite legislation to protect whistleblowers, Wilmshurst describes how an NHS trust and a health authority “spent more than £2.5m in legal fees” to prevent illegal activity by a senior doctor being revealed by a junior doctor.

“If we are genuinely going to put patients first, then nobody, no matter how senior they are, can be untouchable,” concludes Wilmshurst. “However, this will only happen when we have a cultural change in healthcare with promotion of openness and real protection for whistleblowers, plus reform of the English libel laws to provide a genuine public interest defence.”

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