Dodders, late of the Worsted tendency, chugged on to the Today programme this morning. There was a hiss of steam as the old tank engine settled on its axles. The topic of the moment, aptly enough, was whistle blowing. Dodders and his Health Select Committee have been asked to look into the General Medical Council’s pernicious habit of feeding whistle blowers into the firebox, instead of listening to their concerns. Humph did his best to get up a head of steam. There were shunting noises as Humph and Dodders went back and forth over the rails. But they remained stuck in the sidings, puffing platitudes. Delivering professional obligations, puff. Professionals responsible to their regulator, puff. Much good work being done but still too many examples where standards aren’t being delivered, puff puff!
It occurred to Dr No that perhaps Dodders wasn’t so doddery after all. He had deftly switched the points under Humph’s very nose. He had ducked the primary question: how can the GMC ever hope to encourage responsible medical whistle blowing, when it is the very same GMC that relentlessly, and all too often irresponsibly, devotes much of its energy to the malevolent pursuit of medical whistle blowers?
Later, Humph was back on the case, on the long distance telegraph to Oz. Prof Billabong, who long ago uncoupled his wagon from the Great Train of British Medicine following the Bristol baby scandal, could be heard swinging corks in the breeze. He owned up to being a troublemaker, but took the Ned Kelly view when it came to the British authorities. One hoped the GMC weren’t about to do anything rash, like follow him into the bush.
Luckily they weren’t, at least for the time being, because Dickers, the Council’s Chief Pongo, was in the Today studio. Whatever one may feel about Dickers, one can’t fault him for want of a head of steam. Where Dodders had puffed, Dickers billowed. But the general thrust was more of the same, on a grander scale: bigger bolder, more intrusive regulation. There will be closer GMC links with employers – ‘supporting them in their role’ but also ‘making sure that they’re doing their job’ – and ‘regular checks for doctors’. Chillingly, he warned of a Stasification of medical regulation. Henceforth, all doctors will be responsible for The Lives of Others: ‘As a doctor, you are your brother’s and your sister’s keeper’. This is no Old Testament rhetoric: it is the New Order regulation soon to be imposed on a once proud and independent profession.
What neither Dodders nor Dickers grasp is that, not only is bigger, bolder, more intrusive regulation a futile exercise in mistaking the finger pointing at the threatening asteroid for the asteroid itself, not only is it doomed as the apparatchiks drown in a sea of clipboards, as they did at Winterbourne View, it is bound, in the heat of Stasification, to multiply distrust, to corrode confidence, to engender a climate not of openness, but of fear and mistrust. We can expect, in the years head, to see not fewer, but more Ned Kellys.
We need bigger, bolder, more intrusive regulation like Ned Kelly needed a hole in his armour. Far from more regulation, what we need is smarter regulation.