Speaking up for patient safety

More and more members are contacting the MDU for advice on raising concerns about patient safety.

Following on from Speak Up Month, which took place in October, there has been a renewed focus on encouraging healthcare professionals to raise concerns.

In the MDU's experience, doctors are aware of their obligation to raise concerns if patient safety is at risk. However, the prospect of speaking up can be very daunting, especially when the concerns relate to a senior colleague or hospital systems.

There has been a noticeable increase in the number of calls from doctors of all grades to the MDU advice line, where they are concerned about patient safety. Concerns raised by members include:

  • whether to raise concerns about an individual colleague
  • staffing levels both in terms of numbers in the team and cover available
  • lack of experienced and senior colleagues available to safely cover workload
  • working excessive hours.

The GMC's guidance on raising concerns (2012), sets out doctors' duties, regardless of their grade. We all have a moral obligation to protect patients and our colleagues and we can't assume that someone else will address the problem or take action to resolve it. As well as a moral duty, medical practitioners also have a professional obligation to raise concerns.

Practical tips

Speak up month is led by the National Guardian in England. As part of the initiative, the GMC has also released practical advice to help doctors with raising concerns. The advice provides tips on how to create an environment where speaking up is encouraged and explains what happens when someone shares concerns with the GMC.

The GMC recognises that doctors may not feel confident in speaking up or may feel unsupported when they do. It wants medical staff to ensure they understand the local processes in place. The GMC is also encouraging doctors to suggest solutions and engage with colleagues to do the same, so that they can raise concerns as a team, avoiding any feelings of isolation. The GMC's ethical hub provides tools and advice, including experiences of front line staff.

If you have worries about raising concerns about patient safety or the performance or conduct of a colleague, speak to an MDU medico-legal adviser on 0800 716646.

This page was correct at publication on 05/11/2019. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Dr Kathryn Leask

by Dr Kathryn Leask BSc (Hons) MBChB (Hons) LLB MA MRCPCH FFFLM DMedEth MDU medico-legal adviser

Kathryn has been a medico-legal adviser with the MDU since 2007 and is a team leader, trainer and mentor in the medical advisory department. Before joining the MDU, she worked in paediatrics gaining her MRCPCH in 2002 and did her specialty training in clinical genetics. She has an MA in Health Care Ethics and Law, a Bachelor of Law and a Professional Doctorate in Medical Ethics. She is also a fellow of the Faculty of Forensic and Legal Medicine and has previously been an examiner and Deputy Chief Examiner for the faculty exam. Kathryn is currently a member of the faculty's Training and Education Subcommittee.

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