A message from GMC Chair about raising and acting on concerns

This week has seen the conclusion to the public inquiry into the infected blood scandal, and Sir Brian Langstaff’s report makes for harrowing reading. There is extensive commentary within the report about the importance of speaking up about both mistakes and near misses and a cautionary note about the need to protect those who do so from detriment to their career. Over the last few days we have also seen investigative media reports alleging that a number of NHS managers have taken actions to silence whistleblowers, including threatening referral to the GMC.

We are of course aware that referrals to us are sometimes used to intimidate. This is completely unacceptable, has significant consequences for doctors’ wellbeing and puts the safety of patients at risk.

We’ve put a number of safeguards in place to help make sure that the referrals that come to us are fair, appropriate, and proportionate. We are continuously assessing how these are working and whether further interventions are needed to prevent retaliatory or weaponised referrals.

If a concern is raised with us, it will be dealt with fairly and appropriately. When we investigate complaints we take into account all relevant context, including interpersonal factors such as the culture of the organisation the doctor is working in.

We know that having a concern raised with the GMC can be distressing whatever the circumstances that lead to it. We are working to provide support to all doctors referred to us as we know this is stressful and affects general wellbeing.

Speaking up when things aren’t right is extremely difficult, but it’s always the correct thing to do. There’s work to be done to ensure a fair and inclusive listening culture prevails within every workplace and is supported across the whole system. As the Inquiry report notes, despite repeated calls for change, those who seek to raise concerns still feel vulnerable.

For our part, we will reflect on the Inquiry findings and consider how we take forward the recommendations made by Sir Brian Langstaff.

History cannot be repeated. Cultural change must be prioritised as lessons are learned from this dreadful chapter in the history of the health service, so that we as doctors take the actions we need to protect patients.

For further information about speaking up, visit our ethical pages.

With all good wishes,

Carrie MacEwen
Chair of the General Medical Council