[Cartoon By Zaineb Latif Copyright © 2014]
A Special Correspondent
GPs have accused NHS England’s new policy on participating in counter terrorism’s Prevent Extremism strategy of identifying patients susceptible to radicalization as asking GPs to be a government’s intelligence agency. They have also warned that it could threaten patient trust if doctors are being asked to report back to the authorities
GPs were asked to flag up patients who were “vulnerable to radicalism” as part of the counter terrorism Prevent Extremism strategy in 2011.
However, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which buy health services, are now actively asking practices to name their lead before signing the NHS Standard Contract, which is used by all services commissioned by CCGs, including enhanced services.
An email sent by Southampton City CCG to all member practices states that in order to create a ‘bespoke [NHS standard] e-contract for each practice…a number of items of information are required’, including the name of the Prevent lead.
It continues: ‘Health is one of the sectors supported by this strategy. There are no requirements for small providers at this stage other than to identify a lead. This is likely to be the same as the safeguarding lead (Prevent is part of the Safeguarding agenda within health).’
Prevent strategy states that ‘where there are signs that someone has been or is being drawn into terrorism, the healthcare worker can interpret those signs correctly, is aware of the support which is available and is confident in referring the person for further support.
‘Preventing someone from becoming a terrorist or from supporting Prevent Strategy terrorism is substantially comparable to safeguarding in other areas, including child abuse or domestic violence.’
A letter from NHS England to all CCG clinical leads in September, informing them that they must ensure all providers of commissioned services – including GPs providing enhanced services – must have a named lead on the Prevent strategy in place in order to sign the standard contract.
The letter stated: ‘As commissioners, you will be aware that Prevent delivery for each provider organisation is now included within the NHS Standard Contract for 2013/14 within Service Conditions paragraph 32.’
GP leaders have argued that the scheme effectively asks GPs to be a government intelligence agency.
Doctors have also warned that it could threaten patient trust if doctors are being asked to report back to the authorities.
Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Dr Maureen Baker said: “This seems to be a totally inappropriate use of GP time which could be better spent looking after patients.”
She added, “It is completely disproportionate and a poor use of GP resources and time. It is effectively asking GPs to be a government intelligence agency.”
Former Chair of the General Practitioners Committee, Dr Laurence Buckman, branded the new policy a “totally pointless gimmick and I can see no inherent value in asking people who know nothing about something that is extremely serious to do this. ”
An NHS England spokesperson refused to address Dr Baker’s concerns. In a statement to The Muslim News, she said, “Work on the Prevent strategy is being incorporated into NHS England’s mainstream safeguarding work. We are assisted by people who have the specific expertise to help us do this and they lead on training, supporting and clinical practice development of existing safeguarding leads, managers and front-line staff. The Home Office provides funding annually to support this agenda.
“Given the importance of the agenda and the role that healthcare staff have to play in protecting vulnerable people, Prevent is now part of the standard NHS contract. Any provider delivering NHS-funded services is required to ensure that Prevent is explicit within Safeguarding induction training for staff.
“Commissioners would deal with any contract breaches according to the standard terms and conditions agreed with the provider, and this would be the approach for any issues within meeting the safeguarding standards required.”
A Spokesperson from the Home Office, who are responsible for the Prevent strategy, refused to comment on GPs concerns on their policy.