‘The right to speak up……..
Whistleblowing laws were brought in following tragedies such as the Herald of Free enterprise disaster. The legislation was intended to prevent workers raising concerns from being dismissed. This has failed abysmally as Sir Robert Francis stated in the Speaking up review, at best the law (Public Interest Discrimination Act) has limited effectiveness.
At least that gap is now acknowledged. It’s been accepted. So whilst the law remains ineffectual workers remain unsafe. That’s the least of our problems.
Patients First has grown organically from a handful of campaigners to a large and growing network of health professionals who have fought against a system that has been cruel and vindictive in too many cases. The stories of breakdown and loss have been heart breaking to hear. Personally I have listened to maybe thirty or forty similar heart wrenching stories of severe bullying, ignoring of the concerns and failing health and well being. Sir Robert Francis detailed similar in his report published last week.
Patients First contributed by submitting a summary of 70 cases in a thematic review. The patterns used to try and make the individual the focus rather than the issue are remarkable.
Attending a rally last week an eloquent doctor asked how listening to these stories Sir Robert could bear to leave these individuals unresolved. He has. There needs to be some process of reconciliation for the historic cases, as well as most importantly learning from them.
My own journey of whistleblowing took me through all the layers of internal management to the regulators and eventually the media. Until I received support from my MP and the media investigating the ~Peter Connelley story, I didn’t feel that my concerns were being listened to or taken seriously. Colleagues of mine who tried at the same time to speak up, resigned out of frustration, but also felt used by a system that didn’t really care to hear our views. NHS London who investigated my concerns in 2009, treated them as an employment matter rather than a patient safety issue, completely missing the point. The Health Select committee agreed that employment tribunals are not the place for patient safety matters to be heard. Yet this still goes on.
Now its clear that bullying is a major problem and can be linked to raising concerns. The leadership of the NHS will now have to start addressing that by training and more robust support for staff. Unions need to rethink their response to requests for help when staff report bullying, and much earlier intervention generally, and better psychological support is essential. I proposed an early intervention scheme which has been in principle accepted by NHS employers as a good way forward and currently sits with the Department of Health.
This would allow an external scrutiny early one where clinicians or managers are raising concerns about patient safety. The focus would be the patient safety, not the individual.
Whistleblowing externally to regulators and politicians also needs to have a better system in place, and we need to see an end to the post code lottery that currently exists. Some people receive brilliant support from their MP, others have been ignored.
Campaigners have achieved a lot in having these issues heard and now accepted, now we look to government and politicians to ensure that there is fairness for all and no more turning away from difficult issues.
These are my own personal views.
I founded the Patients First network in 2011, contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr Kim Holt’
This article first appeared in the Shaping Our Lives Newsletter Spring 2015 – Issue 23