A leading nurse whistleblower has questioned the robustness and effectiveness of new measures to improve transparency on nurse staffing levels.
The system leaves “room for manipulation and massaging and falsifying figures”, according to Helene Donnelly, the former Mid Staffs nurse whistleblower who is now a national advisor on raising concerns within the NHS.
Under the new system, the NHS Choices website is due to being publishing data on trust staffing numbers at the end of this month.
NHS England has instructed trusts to supply data on their nurse staffing levels to the NHS Choices website, as well as having to display figures on staffing outside individual wards.
They form part of a raft of measures introduced in response to the Francis report.
But Ms Donnelly, who gave evidence to the Francis Inquiry, warned that the process “needs a lot more scrutiny”.
She said she believed that setting minimum staffing levels was a better option and that the NHS would not become safer until they were a legal, statutory requirement.
“Until we have that, and trusts know that they have statutory duty to adhere to, we won’t get anywhere,” Ms Donnelly said yesterday at a fringe event at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress in Liverpool.
Drawing attention to the title of the session – “How to raise concerns and keep your job” – Ms Donnelly told nurses that, despite having mortgages to pay, their priority was to speak out on safety issues.
“I know how hard it is, she said, but the risk of losing your job goes beyond that. It is your duty [to speak out]”.
However, she did say that more must be done to protect and support those who raise concerns.
“I am glad to hear [RCN chief executive and general secretary] Peter Carter say this morning [in his speech to congress] that he is supporting 150 nurses who have raised concerns, but the RCN must do more.”
Ms Donnelly was speaking alongside Susan Osborne, from the Safe Staffing Alliance, and pioneer NHS whistleblower Graham Pink, who raised concerns about poor care in the older people’s ward at Stepping Hill Hospital in Stockport nearly 25 years ago.
However, Mr Pink said nurses should not hide behind low staffing numbers.
“Let’s not fall into the trap of blaming it all on staff shortages,” he urged a packed fringe section on Monday lunchtime.
He listed headlines that highlighted how patients were left unwashed for a month and without water for hours, and said that such poor care demonstrated that something was “hideously awry” with some nurses in this country.
Mr Pink said that unless other nurses exposed the poor care standards of this minority, the “standing of nurses, which has fallen dramatically in this country, will fall even more”.
Ms Donnelly agreed that “there are a very small minority of people who are giving us all a bad name”, and called on other nurses to expose them.