By Dr Minh Alexander NHS whistleblower and former consultant psychiatrist 13 December 2018
In 2015, shortly after Robert Francis published his government-pleasing offering on NHS whistleblowing, the Freedom To Speak Up Review, a more robust but less well known report was published. This was the report of a review by Sir Anthony Hooper former Court of Appeal judge, on how the GMC treats whistleblowers.
Hooper recommended that the GMC should be more active in protecting medical whistleblowers who may be referred vexatiously to the GMC, as a form of punishment and intimidation. He also advised that the GMC should consider the fitness to practice of senior doctors in management who vexatiously referred whistleblowers. Hooper advised that the GMC should require medical managers to:
- Declare whether any doctors they had referred were whistleblowers
- Personally sign off referrals
- Make a statement of truth about their referrals.
The GMC indicated that it accepted these recommendations and would run a pilot scheme.
On 8 October 2018 the Employment Tribunal (ET) issued a judgment which recognised that Tristan Reuser, an NHS opthalmic surgeon, had made a protected disclosure and had later been unfairly dismissed by his NHS trust. The ET did not conclude there was a causal link between the detriment that Mr Reuser experienced and his whistleblowing. This often happens in whistleblowing cases and can be an artefact of the weakness of current UK whistleblowing law.
A significant aspect of the judgment is that it criticised a senior doctor, who is now an NHS Trust Chief Executive, who had referred Mr Reuser to the GMC. This was reportedly on the basis that the GMC referral wrongly claimed:
This would have reduced the chances of Mr Reuser being protected by the GMC through its new procedures for handling whistleblowing cases.
As there had still been no substantive report on the GMC’s Hooper pilot, which began in July 2016, I asked the GMC for an update on its implementation of the Hooper recommendations.
I also drew the GMC’s attention to the ET judgment and asked the regulator to deal with the issue in line with Sir Anthony Hooper’s recommendations. The correspondence was copied to the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), which oversees professional regulators.
This is the GMC’s response, received on 12 December 2018:
GMC advises that it hopes to publish the outcome of its Hooper pilot early next year.
GMC also reports that since March 2015, when the Hooper report was published, it has made enquiries in a single case about possible whistleblower reprisal by a senior doctor, but closed the case:
“I can confirm that since March 2015 we have carried out provisional enquiries in one case (involving a number of doctors including a responsible officer) relating to patient safety issues and concerns that those safety issues had not been dealt with locally. Having reviewed the further information obtained by those enquiries, we concluded that there were no fitness to practise concerns and closed the case.”