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Francis to explore 'culture of fear' in new NHS whistleblowing inquiry

Sir Robert Francis QC is to lead a review of how whistleblowers are treated in the NHS, it has been announced today.

The former chair of the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust public inquiry, who was knighted earlier this month, has been asked by the government to consider what further action is necessary to protect NHS workers who speak out in the public interest.

“Since the inquiry I have had a lot of people talk to me about a culture of fear that prevents people speaking up”

Robert Francis

It follows calls for a public inquiry into whistleblowing in the NHS by a number of high profile whistleblowers and their supporters, including Patients First, a campaign group headed by former Great Ormond Street paediatrician Kim Holt, and GP and Private Eye journalist Phil Hammond.

Announcing the review today, health secretary Jeremy Hunt described whistleblowing as a “critical issue in healthcare systems across the world”.

Sir Robert said “if at all possible” he hoped to report his findings by November, and would be asking for people to submit written evidence and interview them in person where appropriate.

He added: “Since the inquiry I have had a lot of people talk to me about a culture of fear that prevents people speaking up.

“Every time a whistleblower is treated badly or says they have been treated badly, many people are deterred from speaking up.”

Helene Donnelly, the former Stafford Hospital nurse who was bullied after repeatedly raising concerns about the accident and emergency department, will act as an adviser to the review.

She said while questions would be raised about the need for a full public inquiry, the review would “offer some quick answers”.

The review will be called Freedom of Responsibility to Speak Up: An Independent Review into Creating an Open and Honest Reporting Culture.

Readers' comments (10)

  • tinkerbell

    Great news! Go Robert Francis:)

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  • This is great news.

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  • michael stone

    Yep, great news. If there is to be a review, Sir Robert would be my choice to lead it.

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  • Jenni Middleton

    Make sure you join in the #NTTwitchat at 1pm today on this subject (Wednesday 25th June 2014)

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  • how do you join this chat? do you need to be a NT Twit member?

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  • Fantastic news. I have been involved in a few Whistleblowing cases in my career and it's always a dreadful thing to go through. There most certainly IS a culture of fear -understandably when people see how others are treated. Is it worth it personally: No. Is it worth it professionally: No. Is it the right thing to do: Yes. Would I do it again: Yes of course, I have a duty of care and a code of conduct to work under. Very good luck Mr. Francis and Helene Donnelly. I salute you both.

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  • Remember its not all hospital based please Mr Francis. Include all other services, particularly commissioned services.

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  • A culture of fear is a poor culture. I was asked to give evidence against a group of bullying nurses and although management did everything to protect me, the main bully tracked me down and made threats of violence towards me and my family. The bullies then tried to cover there tracks up by lying, but when you look at why they did it, it became apparent they did not know how to do their jobs and just enjoyed taking the money without working for it.
    Me, I got fed up reporting it because nothing changed and frankly even though 5 people testified against these nurses, one an independent witness who had seen the bullying and was not part of the NHS, all that happened was the whole thing was covered up by the Trust.
    What do I feel has gone wrong with the NHS.
    1) No Management Structure.
    2) Government Leaders who are corrupt are a poor role model for nurses to follow.
    3) The Police and Law Lords should take a more active part in help guide the whistleblowing policies.
    4) Sack the bullies....really why is this so hard to do? It's a breach of employees contracts and frankly these women and men need to go. If the managers don't know how to do it, then why in heavens sake are you employed in the first place to the position that you hold!!! Is it because you are related to the Manager by any chance ;-) or are a friend of a friend by chance?
    5) If a whistleblower does manage to bring a culture of fear to an end then applauded it, because frankly any nurse who bullies is a disgrace to the profession and Florence and Mary Brown will be turning in their graves!!
    6) Finally, What I have noticed is that the line managers say one thing to their managers and do the opposite to the workers. That is where the confusion and disruption lies!!!

    I really hope Sir Robert Francis does change things, but who is monitoring the monitors I ask?

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  • Yep, 5 was the number of bully nurses I faced, and once it was out in the open, revealed by a whistleblower, and once the famous 5 realised their victims were being protected and monitored, they turned on one another, ate one another, and then there were none !

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  • Anonymous | 26-Jun-2014 10:30 pm - I'm in total agreement. Management needs to get a grip on this stuff - it's what they're for, dammit! No service where staff are bullied or intimidated can be good for patients.

    I was appointed to my first junior management job in 1990 and within weeks, I discovered a senior nurse behaving in a highly inappropriate manner and learned that previous managers had failed to discipline her because they feared both her, the RCN & the resulting hassle, so they had simply sidelined her into a virtual non-job, still on her full grading. She was a walking insult to her colleagues and her profession.

    My Director of Nursing stood behind me all the way when I disciplined her and dismissed her. I was so nervous of getting it wrong, but knew it had to be done.

    I got some bad attitudes from some of her closest colleagues afterwards, but I think it helped me get some credibility as a young first time manager and it certainly made me confident. I now have teeth behind my smile and I know how to use them!

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