NHS Whistleblower Issues Highlighted

Bullying Is A Significant Problem For NHS Whistleblowers

23.09.2014

People who speak out against the NHS face a variety of problems in their work, with the health service creating something of a "culture of fear" to try to prevent whistleblowing, according to a new report.

Patients First - an organisation of healthcare staff who have spoken out about poor standards in the past - has looked at 70 cases of how people were treated after they tried to raise their concerns, finding that bullying and mismanagement of their complaints were prevalent problems.

The group is submitting its document to an independent review being carried out into the handling of whistleblowers, led by Sir Robert Francis - who oversaw the public inquiry into practices at Staffordshire hospitals - and set up by the Department of Health.

Speaking to BBC News, health secretary Jeremy Hunt commented: "We have come a long way since the tragic events at Mid-Staffs, but we still hear of cases where staff concerns are being ignored."

Looking at Patients First's findings in more detail, it can be seen that around 79 per cent of the whistleblowers it studied experienced bullying for speaking about their concerns, while one-fifth of individuals were unable to access legal advice on their situation or ran out of money.

Chairwoman of the organisation Dr Kim Holt stated: "There has not been any real progress. I have been shocked by the number of people who come to us who are having problems. For me, bullying is the major issue.

"We need to get employers to take this seriously and implement the policies they have to give whistleblowers proper support."

Recently, government ministers have expressed concerns about the use of so-called gagging orders that are used to keep those who speak out silent, while new guidelines have been issued by the Nursing and Midwifery Council around the subject.

In addition, a hotline has been established to provide support to whistleblowers and the government is calling on the NHS to be much more open and honest about any mistakes it makes, so the public is fully aware of any issues with the care it could be receiving.

Expert Opinion
The identification and reporting of problems within the NHS is crucial to the improvement of standards in the future. The findings of this report suggest that those who speak out about failings they see within the NHS are not given the help and support they need to ensure the problems are rectified.

“Unfortunately, we have seen numerous cases where serious failings within patient care have been allowed to continue unchecked or unreported, with many patients suffering as a result. Further investigation into these reports is needed and any failings corrected to ensure staff feel comfortable raising concerns and confident that the issues they raise will be dealt with accordingly.

“We hope that improvements will be made in this area, with further support available for staff and greater transparency within the complaints process. Implementing these measures will help to ensure patient care is always the top priority for the NHS and reassure the public that errors and mistakes are identified and corrected to improve standards throughout the NHS.”
Mandy Luckman, Partner