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Whistleblowing – ‘But, why does it have to be me?’
In the interest of protecting the public, whistleblowing is currently high on the General Dental Council’s agenda. To support dental professionals who are unsure how to proceed in respect of their concerns about the behaviour, skills, or the fitness to practice of a colleague, the GDC have recommended that a helpful first step would be making a call to the free independent and confidential helpline of Public Concern at Work.
Public Concern at work is a registered charity well known for its work in supporting those considering acting upon a public interest concern.
Standards for the Dental Team (2013)
Each practice is required to have a Whistleblowing Policy, based on the Guidance in Standard 8 of the Standards for the Dental Team (2013). However, it is often the case that the formal guidelines issued by the GDC, NHS and other interested parties are perfectly clear, until they become blurred by the context of the individual’s concerned. This is the very reason that policies and procedures developed solely to define required standards for the entire team are so important. Having set the standards they can define the pathway to achieving them. These policies and procedures are never meant to be a punitive tool, but they are valuable remedial tools when colleagues have concerns about a fellow dental professional. Policy and procedures form a clear basis for objective performance measurement, unclouded by emotions and personalities.
Whistle blowing is a thorny issue and represents a series of circumstances with potentially serious consequences. The question many dental professionals find themselves wrestling with is whether their concerns are justified and whether they merit them initiating a potentially highly contentious situation. To see things more clearly and decide if it would be in the patients’ best interest if you were to speak up, ask yourself the following questions about the behaviour that concerns you. Is it:
- The result of poor levels of competence or impairment?
Don’t wait for things to go wrong: If you believe there are weaknesses, start discussing them with your colleagues now – before it becomes a patient safety issue. The practice should aim to develop a culture that is able to treat discussions about performance as an opportunity to celebrate the best practice and set standards to aspire to, as well as an opportunity to address possible problems.
Be aware of the procedures set out in the practice policy and follow them. It is likely that the practice policy will direct you to express your concern directly to the individual concerned (if possible) in the first place, and then within the practice to a Registered Person.
There is legal protection in place for whistle blowers: The Public Interest Disclosure Act protects the employment rights of individuals who raise genuine concerns about wrong doing in their workplace.
Your first duty must always be to the patient rather than a colleague or a team. Expressing a concern will not be easy, but it is important that when problems emerge clinicians do not bury their heads in the sand and so become guilty of passive inaction. Clinical Governance and Clinical Audit pave the way to set standards and measurements for clinical competence.
Other issues concerning communications and respectful relationships with patients should be highlighted through the Friends and Families Tests. It will take time for the profession to reach the full potential that quality management initiatives can offer as a result of setting clear indicators of incompetent, unethical, or illegal practice, increasingly quality initiatives will swiftly assess the merit of any of the concerns raised.