The RCGP has reacted to the government response to the public inquiry led by Robert Francis into the events at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.
Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "We recognise that while these recommendations focus on secondary care, there are clear ramifications for the entire NHS to ensure that we never end up in a situation where the lives of patients and their families are jeopardised by the failures of those in trusted and responsible positions.
"Since the Mid Staffordshire scandal was uncovered, confidence in health care professionals across the NHS has been questioned and we need a collective effort to restore that confidence. Part of that effort will be doing all we can as health care professionals to encourage an environment of openness and ensuring that, wherever they work in the NHS, staff are supported to report concerns about conduct and patient safety issues.
"In situations where doctors and nurses fail in their duty of care to patients, decisive action needs to be taken so that patients are protected and individuals are held to account if their conduct is determined to be intentional. However, it's also important to recognise that there are very few cases of 'wilful neglect' and the majority of health care staff are dedicated professionals who prioritise the highest quality of patient care, as pointed out by Don Berwick in his recent report to the government.
“It's vital to distinguish between an individual purposefully neglecting a patient's needs and other failures in the system or human errors made by well-intentioned people. A culture of openness will allow the distinction between error and neglect to become clearer. It's important for NHS staff to know that they will be supported so they do not fear the consequences of raising concerns about the quality of patient care.
"That's why we believe more needs to be done to protect whistleblowers and ensure a ban is effectively enforced on 'gagging clauses' in NHS contracts. We would urge the Government to pursue a discussion with medical defence organisations, trade unions and Royal Colleges to to explore this issue and put a clear plan of action in place.
"GPs have an important role to play in ensuring that their patients' concerns about standards of care are dealt with swiftly and effectively. However, the capacity of GPs to take time to listen to their patients and act as advocates on their behalf is being compromised by the increasing pressure that general practice is under, with burgeoning workloads and steadily diminishing resources. It's time for the Government to reverse this by increasing funding for general practice, allowing us to provide consistently high standards of care and act as a driver of quality throughout the NHS.”