Doctors call for action on gossips: Consultants oppose whisper campaigns

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The Independent Online
FIVE female consultants who believe their careers were blighted by whispering campaigns orchestrated by other colleagues launched a campaign yesterday to force the General Medical Council to silence gossiping doctors.

They are seeking to make examples of doctors who spread 'malicious and unsubstantiated' gossip which can become part of serious allegations leading to suspensions and the destruction of reputations.

They want the GMC to use its powers to reprimand doctors who impugn the reputations of others.

The code of professional conduct established by the GMC states that it is a doctor's duty to inform on a colleague 'whose professional conduct or fitness to practice may be called into question'. But it also states: 'However, gratuitous and unsustainable comment, which, whether directly or by implication, sets out to undermine trust in a professional colleague's knowledge or skills, is unethical.'

The obstetrician and gynaecologist, Professor Wendy Savage, senior lecturer at the Royal London Hospital Trust in east London, said 'six to ten' cases were being examined by their solicitors. 'What we wish to highlight is how, by careless or malicious gossip the reputations of doctors can be ruined.'

Professor Savage was suspended in 1985 on grounds of alleged incompetence but was reinstated after a six-week inquiry. The four other consultants are Dr Bridget O'Connell, Miss Pauline Bousquet, Dr Helen Zeitlin and Dr Helena Daly.

Dr O'Connell spoke out about paediatric standards and was suspended by North East Thames Regional Health Authority. After 12 years the authority apologised and she has accepted early retirement.

Miss Bousquet is an obstetrician and gynaecologist against whom proceedings for alleged incompetence began in 1979. She was made redundant in 1989 and settled with her health authority after an industrial tribunal.

Dr Zeitlin, a consultant haematologist, was dismissed on grounds of alleged redundancy from the Alexandra Hospital at Redditch, Hereford and Worcester, and later reinstated.

Dr Daly, also a consultant haematologist, is currently fighting an attempted dismissal because of alleged professional misconduct.

Professor Savage said in her own case doctor friends had told her what others were saying behind her back. 'One was told: 'The reason Wendy Savage is suspended is because she is a socialist, feminist and lesbian' . . . By repeating things like that the credibility of doctors can be completely destroyed,' she said.