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Fear of reprisal stops UK GPs from reporting medical errors

Delegates told a recent Patient Safety Congress in the UK that British GPs do not report medical errors as often as they should because they fear being penalised and facing reprisal if they do

04 Jul 2010

Delegates told a recent Patient Safety Congress in the UK that British GPs do not report medical errors as often as they should because they fear being penalised and facing reprisal if they do

Often they do not know to whom medical errors have to be reported, the process being complicated by there being different authorities in the UK looking after different aspects of the problem, including the National Patient Safety Agency (NPSA), the colleges, the Care Quality Commission and the NHS.

The head of the NPSA had told the Congress that incident reporting was increasing (11% of all prescriptions contained an error and one in 15 hospital admissions was drug-related and therefore preventable). But fewer than 1% of all reports of medical errors to the NPSA came from general practice.

He cited barriers to reporting by GPs including fear of reprisals, lack of trust, cultural beliefs, loss of job or reputation and GPs’ not knowing to whom to report or how.

Prof Steve Field, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said that GPs “don’t report because they don’t trust”.

Phil Hammond - the doctor who blew the whistle on the cover-up of deaths of babies during heart surgery in Bristol Royal Infirmary between 1984 and 1995 – said that GPs “don’t think that reporting things will make it better” or that they would be penalised.

“There’s still a culture of bullying and enforcement getting in the way of patient safety,” he said. “There should never be a situation where anyone feels frightened about speaking up.  There should be zero tolerance of people who intimidate or bully GPs out of speaking up.”

The Congress agreed that speaking up about mistakes, better communication between staff and focusing on change rather than encouraging a blame culture were the major ways forward.


Published: 04 Jul 2010