New Doctor Protection Measures Announced

It is no secret that working as a doctor – whether in general practice or in a hospital setting – entails some level of risk. With responsibility over patients’ health, wellbeing and – often – lives, mistakes can have serious ramifications.

Whilst, in cases of real negligence, consequences are necessary, over the past few years, growing numbers of professionals have become concerned about the so-called ‘culture of blame’ present in healthcare, where even the most basic and honest of mistakes can be severely penalised.

As a response to this, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has announced new guidelines to increase patient and doctor protection measures for when mistakes are made – as well as to prevent further errors from occurring.

So, how can out-of-hours doctors protect themselves professionally in the workplace, and what effect will the new regulations have?

Protecting out-of-hours GPs

To some extent, any caregiving career will involve an element of taking on responsibility for others. However, out-of-hours work does require further thought and planning to ensure doctors are protected at all times.

There are several reasons for this – primarily that the doctor is working individually, in people’s homes or over the telephone, rather than in an established practice. Writing for BMJ Careers, medicolegal adviser Zaid Al-Najjar also comments,

“Evidence also suggests that patients who present out of hours and experience an adverse event may be more likely to take action against a doctor they do not know.”

This heightened risk is one that is unlikely to manifest, and, with the correct planning on the doctor’s part and on their employer’s behalf, both practitioner and patient can be protected in any eventuality. As out-of-hours doctors are much more self-determined in their work, it is important to consider which complaints appear most urgent when planning a shift schedule, determining how long a patient should have to wait.

Because out-of-hours work can entail identifying whether a condition requires immediate treatment, professionals must also be versed in recognising vital signs, and making decisions on referrals, as well as providing clear advice to keep patients safe until they speak to their normal GP.

As work occurs in patients’ own homes, it is vital to record examination findings and healthcare advice thoroughly. This way, if the patient deteriorates, you can prove the condition they were in when you saw them, and the recommendations you made.

These simple steps can make a huge difference in protecting your professional integrity as an out-of-hours clinician.

New doctor protection measures for practitioner and patient

However, with significant structural changes being made to the way that the NHS processes mistakes, doctors are set to receive more protection and support in the case of an error. The government review ordered by the Health Secretary includes a variety of measures to support patient and practitioner, including:

  • Ensuring every hospital death is investigated by a medical examiner or coroner
  • Giving doctors access to data on their professional performance, allowing them to see how they compare to colleagues, and identify areas of improvement
  • Preventing the regulator – the General Medical Council – from being able to appeal against the findings of doctors’ disciplinary hearings.

These changes are made in the interest of making the healthcare industry one that can progress and reflect upon past practice, rather than seeking to simply attribute blame and move on without reassessing best practices. Jeremy Hunt claims that improving patient safety will mean doctors and medical staff need to be able to reflect freely when they have made normal mistakes, so that new, better approaches can be developed and further errors avoided.

According to the BBC, these measures will also support bereaved families of those who have been lost due to medical error. The Department of Health and Social Care says that, under these regulations, families will have access to more information about the circumstances of their loved ones’ death, allowing data to be shared across the healthcare sphere to help prevent avoidable deaths going forwards.

Under these new regulations, some of the assumed risks of working as an out-of-hours doctor are being addressed, making this a more attractive path than ever for many clinicians. With full support and protection from the government, as well as more attractive packages and flexibility in working hours, out-of-hours work is a great place to be – especially now.

To find out more about our out-of-hours healthcare roles, contact us today on 03000 243 333.