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The GMC Conference I – Whistleblowing

December 12, 2013

I am writing this on the rain back from Manchester, where today I attended the GMC conference on professionalism – “Whose job is it anyway?” Looking back, I’m not sure why I signed up in the first place, but then again, I’m not sure why I wanted to be a doctor and I’m still here now.

The day was chaired by BBC health correspondent, Fergus Walsh, and filled with various talks, workshops and seminars on diverse topics to do with medical professionalism including;

  • The landscape in healthcare post-Francis/Berwick
  • The rise in complaints against doctors
  • The future of professionalism
  • Whistleblowing, speaking out and transparency
  • And one of my favourite subjects – Social media!

After introductory talks by Peter Rubin, GMC Chair, Niall Dickson, GMC Chief Executive, and Walsh, I watched students from Queen’s University Belfast and Bart’s and the London debate the motion:

Whistleblowing will ruin your medical career.

I initially agreed, knowing full well the personal and professional fallout and anguish whistleblowing can lead to, and often, complete unemployability. Bart’s made good points; that it improves the standard of care for patients, that doctors have a duty to speak up, that there are regulatory and legal pathways and protections in place, and that some whistleblowers return to work with honours…eventually. However, that doesn’t change the fact that in the short and medium term, whistleblowing puts your career in jeopardy.

As an aside, when Fergus Walsh read out my tweet in front of the entire conference, I realised just how silly my Twitter handle sounds.

When the debate was opened up to the floor, a doctor stood up and made a really great point. He had spoken up years before on an issue of consent and patient examination, and found his career prematurely cut short. However, he found an alternative path open up, as an advocate of patient welfare. It was not he thought he would do, not what he would have chosen to do but with acuity of the retrospectoscope, his career was not been curtailed but instead it moved in a different direction towards a different destination. When you blow the whistle, he said, you can’t help but be changed. As his voice wavered recounting his experience, even now, I appreciated just how much courage it takes to stand up and speak out. It takes courage to be a professional.

In Parts II and III, I’ll continue talking about Social Media and when Jeremy Hunt took the stage.

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