Doctors silent on medics who put patients at risk
Majority afraid to report colleagues who are incompetent
Published 05/03/2014 | 02:30
THE majority of GPs and hospital doctors who believed a colleague was incompetent failed to report their concerns, despite the threat to patient safety.
The alarming results of a new poll show that as many as six out of 10 doctors (59pc) stay silent even if they fear that a fellow medic is impaired or incompetent.
Many doctors keep quiet because they believe the complaint will fall on deaf ears.
Others fear retribution or believe "someone else" is dealing with the problem.
Worryingly, just half of the 696 doctors surveyed said they "completely agreed" that they should report all instances of significantly impaired or incompetent colleagues to relevant authorities.
And just 63pc said they would completely agree that doctors should disclose all significant medical errors.
The widening gulf between what patients expect and what doctors do will alarm health bosses who last week released a report into the handling of baby deaths in Portlaoise hospital.
It found "appalling" and shocking care by staff at the maternity unit and a failure by staff to act on lessons from previous adverse events.
The damning admissions by the doctors emerged in a Millward Brown poll, commissioned by the Medical Council, which regulates doctors and places an ethical onus on doctors to place patient safety at the core of their work.
The results show that one in seven doctors admitted having direct personal knowledge of a colleague who was under-performing.
More than a third said they spoke to the doctor involved about their concerns.
However, the results show that four out of five patients were still being referred to the under-performing doctor, despite their own doctor believing their colleague's performance was below par.
A similar poll conducted in the UK found 73pc reported their concerns, which may reflect a difference in professional values or a lack of support for Irish medics, according to the report "Talking About Good Professional Practice".
In contrast, seven out of 10 members of the public polled said they were confident that their doctors would report worries about the competence of a colleague while 77pc strongly believed the medic would be upfront if a mistake was made.
Commenting on the findings, the President of the Medical Council, Professor Freddie Wood, a retired cardiac surgeon, said the research underlined the need for putting agreed values for good professional practice by doctors into action on a consistent basis.
Junior Health Minister Alex White, who launched the report along with a new four-year strategy for the council, said lessons needed to be learned from tragic events such as the recent inquiry into the deaths of four babies in Portlaoise Hospital. An investigation into a fifth death is under way.
"The system itself needs to improve to ensure there are robust systems for complaint in place," he said. "There has been a lot of progress on that but we have seen some high-profile cases where it did not work. It points to the need for us to spread a culture where people are frank and try to prevent things going wrong again."
The poll, which tracks similar research between 2011 and 2013, found that nine in 10 people trusted doctors to tell the truth and 94pc reported a positive experience with their own doctor. A total of 31pc just rated their experience satisfactory.
Nine out of 10 people never had a reason to make a complaint about their doctor. The majority felt their doctor was keeping up their skills and knowledge but only 68pc believed they were due to external checks.
The report said the systems in place to ensure that doctors were maintaining their competence need to be strengthened and more consistent.
Doctors who pose a potential risk may be suffering from a mental or physical illness which affects their ability to practice or they can also be providing substandard care due to lack of skill and a failure to keep up with the changes in medicine.