BMA's 'toolkit' protects GPs who expose neglect and abuse of the vulnerable
By Liz Lockhart
Legislation in now in place to protect GPs who wish to sound the alarm over concerns that vulnerable patients have been victims of abuse or neglect. This should only happen if they believe a cover-up is likely and once they have informed managers and/or regulators
The BMA’s Safeguarding Vulnerable Adults Toolkit for GPs has just been published. GPs can now legally low the whistle to the media or MPs if they suspect physical and mental abuse of vulnerable adults by NHS staff or carers is being covered up.
The BMA said that ‘the toolkit’ aims to resolve a lack of clarity over the issue and support of GPs to meet their obligation to report abuse.
GPs should be alert to identifying abusers, spotting systemic healthcare failures and recognising signs of neglect, ranging from physical and mental abuse to financial exploitation.
‘Whistle-blowing legislation has long been established. However, it has become increasing important to ensure that clear and effective procedures are in place, so that individuals feel confident that should they have cause to make a disclosure, they will be protected from any discrimination’ Jennifer Pinder, Senior Solicitor in Employment and HR at Berry Smith Solicitors of Cardiff told Mental Healthy .
The guidance highlights the differences between safeguarding adults and child protection. It also informs GPs of the channels they can use to raise the alarm over patient safety fears. This includes raising concerns ‘in good faith’ with employers, managers or regulators, but should only ‘whistle-blow’ if they suspect that there is a likely cover-up.
‘Where these remedies are exhausted and patient are still at risk, it may be necessary to consider raising the issue more widely, by whistle-blowing for example, which may involve providing information to the media or MPs.’ - the guidance reads.
Wider dissemination of information is protected, as long as it is reasonable, not made for gain and meets the following conditions:
- Whistle-blowers reasonably believe they would be victimised if they raised the matter internally or with a prescribed regulator
- They believe a cover-up is likely and there is no prescribed regulator
- They have already raised the matter internally or with a prescribed regulator.'
A poll of 290 GPs found that 41% believe one or more of their patients has been subjected to abuse. This survey was carried out by Pulse earlier this month
‘The way doctors deal with these possible situations demonstrates how complex caring for vulnerable adults can be.’ said Dr. Tony Calland chair of the BMA’s Medical Ethics Committee.
This toolkit has been designed to help to guide and support doctors in their decision-making.
‘The BMA’s new toolkit is comprehensive and unambiguous and will reassure GP’s and other healthcare professionals, as well as reminding them of their obligations. Hopefully this will then encourage them to report any maltreatment of vulnerable adults. In turn, inevitably the safeguarding of these individuals will be improved, which is an incredibly positive step’ said Jennifer Pinder.