A former Court of Appeal judge has been commissioned by the General Medical Council to investigate the way it handles whistleblowing doctors, HSJ can reveal.
Sir Anthony Hooper QC will examine the way the regulator treats medics whose fitness to practice is called into question when they blow the whistle on their employers or colleagues about patient safety.
The senior lawyer will also investigate how the GMC supports doctors who contact the council directly with public interest concerns about where they are working.
Sir Anthony, who retired from the Court of Appeal in 2012, chaired the Whistleblowing Commission for charity Public Concern at Work last year.
His review is expected to make recommendations on how the GMC could better support doctors who speak out in future.
It will hear evidence from doctors who have suffered as a result of raising concerns, as well as receiving input from employers and trade unions.
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The review’s terms of reference said Sir Anthony will “provide independent advice and recommendations… on steps which the GMC may take to improve the experience of individuals who regard themselves as whistleblowers; who have appropriately raised concerns in the public interest; and whose fitness to practise is being investigated or have reported such a concern to the GMC”.
The review comes after GMC chief executive Niall Dickson admitted the council had lessons to learn from the way it handled whistleblowers when questioned by MPs on the Commons health select committee in June.
Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie told him there was a perception the GMC often supported “the bad guys”.
Confirming the review, Mr Dickson told HSJ: “Our guidance is quite clear about the requirement of doctors to raise concerns about poor care, but we want to make sure we are doing all we can to support those that do.
“We want to ensure the GMC has the proper processes and guidance in place to support doctors who raise concerns.
“We hope this review – which is focused on the GMC alone – will also be helpful in the context of the wider review of whistleblowing in the NHS being undertaken by Sir Robert Francis QC.”
Kim Holt, a whistleblowing paediatrician and founder of Patients First campaign group, welcomed the review as a “real step forward by the GMC”.
“We have raised our concerns with the GMC about the way they support whistleblowers,” she said.
“It is too easy for employers to make a referral to the GMC which is based on flimsy evidence and takes two years to get through the system.”
Such tactics made it “very difficult” for whistleblowers, she added. “The purpose behind it is to discredit what they are actually saying.”
Sir Anthony, who was appointed to the High Court in 1995 before joining the Court of Appeal in 2004, said: “Having previously chaired the Whistleblowing Commission, I am only too aware of the challenges faced, not only by the individuals who raise concerns, but the organisations and regulators who have to deal with them.
“This is a timely review by the GMC and I am delighted to have been asked to undertake it.”