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Exclusive: half of students raise concerns - but can face 'hell' as a result

Half of student nurses say they have raised concerns about the practice or attitude of a colleague while on placement, according to a survey by Nursing Times.

Just over 30% of respondents said they had raised a concern once, while 17% had done so more often and 2% did so regularly. 

“If a patient is placed in immediate danger by a member of staff’s actions then I would like to think that I would say something to them straight away,” said one student.

However, another respondent cautioned: “Many student nurses and newly qualified nurses have issues they wish to raise, but the culture of senior staff knowing better makes this harder.”

Views were mixed over the subsequent result of raising a concern. Only 37% of those who raised one said it lead to an appropriate outcome for practice or attitude.

One respondent said: “I did whistleblow with regards to staff treating the patients badly. I informed the sister and the university but unfortunately nothing was done. During my placement I was then bullied and it was made hell for me, so please do something to help this situation.”

Students were less prepared to raise concerns if the health professional they were concerned about was a senior member of ward staff, with 60% saying they would “definitely feel more worried about raising a concern”.

The survey was carried out by Nursing Times to build evidence on raising concerns in the NHS to help inform the Speak Out Safely campaign. More than 1,400 students completed the survey.

When asked who they would initially approach with a concern, most said they would either pass them on to a mentor or senior staff member (54%) or their tutor (37%). A smaller number (8%) would opt for an informal chat with the person they had concerns about.

Only 16% would be prepared to “whistleblow” to the media if their concerns were not acted upon by those at their placement or university.

Risk of being viewed as a troublemaker was seen as the biggest barrier to raising concerns while on a placement, followed by worries about failing the placement or not getting paperwork signed off.

The threat of bullying by colleagues and the potential failure of their placement organisation to act on their concerns were viewed as problems by half of survey respondents.

More than half, 56%, said the ability of nursing staff to raise concerns in the NHS or wider healthcare sector could be “a lot better”.

Are you able to Speak Out Safely? Sign our petition to put pressure on your trust to support an open and transparent NHS.

Readers' comments (10)

  • How a concern is raised is often as important as the concern itself. For example, approaching raising a concern confrontationally will often, unsurprisingly, lead to confrontation. Sometimes one has to think laterally when raising an issue. Phrasing the concern as a learning point will often lead to learning from the concern. Not always easy, but if it results in better practice and patient safety, then it is worth doing.

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  • I remember back in 1986 when I was a student I raised concerns about one particular ward I worked on to the school of nursing and a tutor who supervised me on the ward. Their answer back then was - report it to the ENB, so things havent changed much!

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  • Hard core, life affecting bullying is rife in the NHS and bully's are often well known throughout the hospital by many staff for being a bully. As a professional that reported bullying from 2 well known bullies, I saw 'the system' for what is really is and what types of people work there. The lies bully's tell to cover-up their behaviour is gross misconduct. If you stand up for professionalism you will be treated badly as was my experience. The only way out of this culture is to leave as the bully's are well protected. I am so happy I was strong enough to leave and return to working with professionals, I now smile every day and look forward to going to work

    How proud these bully's must be to be well known for bullying where they work. I myself would be utterly disgraced to be known as a bully, sadly these types think they are fabulous as they only have that to be proud of as they waddle slowly around the ward, shouting, screaming and abusing staff.

    But eventually, their behaviour will catch up with them....

    Where are these bullies going to hide when hospitals are privatised and they are no longer protected by HR and the appalling archaic system...I wonder...



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  • George Kuchanny

    This is a problem that really must be sorted out. It is an easy problem to sort that will benefit the NHS enormously and patients even more. All those raising concerns should have a single point at which to do it. For instance an 'Internal Review Officer' renowned for his/her ability to reshape a concern into a learning opportunity who also pivotally has the power to take to task those who are effectively bad apples who WILL NOT improve their outlook. We all know some of these awful people frankly. But many are not lost causes they have become sloppy and uncaring by degrees without fully realising that they have become rather less than god at what they do.

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  • George Kuchanny

    Sorry, meant good not god in the last post.

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  • Surely we can collectively encourage and influence others to set up a system where students can raise concerns and know they will be addressed in a way that raises the ussues and ensures they are addressed.

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  • I am a mental health student nurse, currently in my second year.

    I often speak with other students (from mental health and adult nursing) about their experiences while on placements; I have been horrified at the stories I hear and how some healthcare professionals treat students. I feel unless this is confronted and not ignored (which often seems to be the case) students experiences will be thwarted and some will not continue in this rewarding and valuable profession. I am well aware of a longstanding bullying culture in the NHS, from several years’ prior experience in a senior role. It seems that unprofessionalism and bullying are sometimes not dealt with, and individuals are moved sideways.

    I do hope the problems inherent in this culture change, and hopefully, newly qualified nurses will be able to contribute to that positive change.

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  • Anonymous | 17-Apr-2013 4:42 pm - I can relate totally. I'm still at point need to hope it will catch up with them. At the moment it's just cost me my health and career.

    This will sound very cynical, and in no way am I suggesting it's how it should be, but maybe this is valid learning - you'll 'face hell' if you try it once qualified too.

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  • Iam an Adult nursing student(1st year).I was blessed to have a wonderful professional and knowledgeable mentor. I was able to witness nurse mentor bullying my fellow students,shouting and using inappropriate language to the students. I remember one student falling into tear and one ended up dropping out of the training. Personally,its easy to stand up for myself but thinking twice its not easy at the same time especially knowing that they are the ones to sign me off and working under their direct supervision. I was not happy when they refered the 2012 intake as the BSc lot.Could someone sort this mess out.What a culture with nurses? Iam dreading my next placement honesty.what happens when am qualified???

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  • ggaspar2
    English lessons perhaps?

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