Katie's Diary

Could you be a Whistleblower?

16th April 2013

There have been lots of recent stories in the news about Whistleblowing in the NHS, in particular a story on 15th February talked about repeated complaints about unusually high death rates at one of the NHS' trusts going completely ignored. It was also stated that across the health service there have been many examples of "gagging" clauses, whereby staff members felt unable to speak out about instances of wrong or improper behaviour.

Health Minister Jeremy Hunt said that in the interests of patient safety these issues needed to be stamped out. But sometimes it can be difficult to come forward or speak out about things, particularly if you fear you may be ignored, persecuted or worse, lose your job. 

We all know when something is not right, or is not being done correctly so we must be aware of our rights and be confident that if we do raise something as an issue, it will be dealt with properly and professionally.


So why does the issue of whistleblowing keep coming up? Well for me the question is not why people don't speak up; they clearly do. In all of the recent cases people have come forward. The question that should be asked then is why does nobody listen? Why do those people responsible for making something happen, or making sure it happens, not listen to those who know what it is like for the patient? How often do the people responsible for managing and commissioning services walk in the patient's shoes? In the Mid Staffs report one whistle-blower pointed out that "the fear factor" kept her from speaking initially, "plus the thought that no one wanted to know".

The issues around fear of whistleblowing could easily be found in our own work. The Health and Social Care sector is one of, if not the most important industry whose successful running and continual improvement relies on the vigilance of its employees to recognise and speak up when something is not right.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Would you feel confident enough to step forward if you saw something you knew to be unjust, unlawful or downright abusive? The website www.gov.uk states that "A worker can't be dismissed because of whistleblowing. If they are, they can claim unfair dismissal". With this in mind it seems obvious to voice your concerns in any such circumstances, but this is not always straight forward.

For some the very idea of talking to their employer in a negative way about the company/organisation they work for can feel daunting. It may be that an attitude of "I'd better not" takes over, but this should never be the case. There are other options available; for our own sector there is a Freephone whistleblowing helpline which treats any complaints with total confidentiality. 

The helpline can be reached at 08000 724 725 and more information can be found here.

The real question to ask is "what are the implications of not speaking up?" Yes it can be difficult to do so sometimes. It can be even more difficult to confront an issue if you are relatively new to a company and have concerns about how things are being run. But to voice a concern is not to condemn your colleagues or your company. It is to ensure that safety is the number one priority.

What about you? Have you ever come forward? Did you see a resolution or did you feel you were listened to but not heard? 

Though it is difficult to summon the courage to come forward, it is surely much more damaging to allow unsafe/harmful practices to enter and then stagnate in a workplace, particularly one that is supposed to provide secure support to vulnerable people. Remember that if small concerns are allowed to germinate they will potentially evolve into much larger problems such as this.


Further Information

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/23/contents

The Government Whistleblowing Guide: https://www.gov.uk/whistleblowing/overview

General Information on whistleblowing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whistleblower


An examination of Whistleblowing by Andrew Stephenson
Whenever we hear of an abuse scandal, be it Winterbourne View, the Bristol heart babies or more recently the Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust, we hear about the number of occasions upon which people have raised concerns that are not listened to. Mid Staffordshire trust even used a computerised 'morality alert system' aimed at identifying trends in death rates that were outside the expected norms. 

However the headlines on Channel 4 News 6 February asked whether you can 'be an NHS whistleblower without being sacked'. Having recently left the grand edifice that is the NHS I would question whether the use of the term 'whistle-blowing' is rather confusing the issue for the NHS.

When does someone asking a question about a piece of practice that looks uncomfortable become whistle-blowing? Where are we drawing the line between simply pointing out something that looks wrong, and formally reporting bad practice? Where are we drawing the line between abuse and simply not being very good at our jobs? Asking these questions is vital to the health of an organisation and the people it serves. 

Much has been said during recent abuse cases about whether the NHS still 'cares', amid questions of whether it is right to employ career nurses with college degrees rather than several years' vocational experience. Does the NHS care or is it just doing a job until a better one comes along? From my experience the great majority of the people that I met in the NHS cared very deeply. They certainly raised questions when they thought things were not being done right, and they weren't sacked. But they probably didn't consider themselves to be whistle-blowing. By its nature, whistle-blowing is a far more formal approach which takes courage and conviction to be able to see your issue through to a resolution. So whilst people are happy to raise issues in a single instance, they may lack the verve to ensure it is communicated to all the relevant parties without fear of reprisal. Again I don't agree that NHS staff lacked any such courage and I myself fielded calls from the CQC and the Police following up on issues that had been brought to their attention.

The key is not whether the whistle-blowing protocol obliges people to report concerns, or whether it is written in red ink. It is whether managers consider the customer, the family, and the people close to the customer important enough to be worth listening to.

Could you be a Whistleblower?

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