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Whistleblowing laws 'must change', says union

Whistleblowing laws in NHS hospitals must change so staff can report their concerns with confidence, a union has said.

The comments from Unison come after it emerged that two administrative assistants at a scandal-hit hospital complained that they were ”pressured or bullied” to falsify data relating to cancer patients to make it seem like people were being treated in line with national guidelines.

The Care Quality Commission noted “inaccuracies” with waiting time data relating to cancer treatments and as a result a number of patients suffered “undue delays” at Colchester Hospital University Foundation Trust.

Two admin staff, both Unison members, raised concerns about the issue but were ignored by a series of managers, a union spokeswoman said.

They took their plight all the way up to the trust’s chief executive, who did not even respond to their email, she added.

After their concerns were “ignored” the pair contacted the health watchdog, the spokeswoman said.

The CQC report concluded that even though an internal investigation in 2012 identified concerns, the trust failed to investigate the allegations thoroughly.

Christina McAnea, head of health at union Unison, said: “Our members took a brave step by reporting to the CQC that they were being bullied and harassed by senior managers to falsify records relating to cancer patients.

“They raised their concerns repeatedly and in emails to senior managers, right up to the chief executive, but they were ignored.”

The union has now made a series of recommendations to change the culture in the health service, including:

  • A change to the whistleblowing legislation to enable groups of staff to receive the same protection as though they were individuals.
  • Commitments to implement safe staffing levels, including the introduction of a minimum nurse:patient ratio of one nurse to four patients.
  • For hospitals to designate a non-executive board member responsible for patient satisfaction and staff engagement.

Ms McAnea said: “It is essential that all staff in the NHS across grades and occupations, have a voice and are listened to. There is an urgent need to reassure patients that staff are confident to raise concerns and that those concerns will be dealt with.

“NHS trust boards should have to take account of staff views and have a designated board member responsible for these issues.

“Leaving it up to individual members of staff is just not good enough - it should be made easier for unions to raise issues on behalf of groups of staff and ensure they are protected from harassment and bullying.”

She added: “The best NHS organisations have robust, effective partnership working with the trade unions at the heart of their business. That directly leads to better patient outcomes. The government should commit to ensuring the NHS achieves this universally and drops its ill-conceived reforms.”

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Readers' comments (10)

  • I was forced out of my job, (after 39 years in the NHS), as a full-time health visitor last year for whistleblowing in order to protect a child in a child protection case.
    UNITE refused to support my case to Employment Tribunal. What is the point of paying union fees and all the rhetoric of union speak when they do not support their individual members. Despite my case being completed UNITE still refuse to pay my legal fees.
    Sadly I can see no change, in the NHS, with regards to Whistleblowing or with regards to Child Protection (when you raise concerns you are bullied and harassed). I was disciplined for Gross Misconduct for raising Child Protection concerns (which was overturned at appeal).
    At least I prevented a child from suffering further abuse or suffering serious injury or possible death by my actions.

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  • Really sorry to read what you've been through Jenny and I don't think it would've mattered which Union you were in as they're all as toothless and useless as each other.

    You did the right thing by raising your concerns, I just wish there were more like you out there.

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  • michael stone

    I was recently 'bashed' by someone about my comments re whistleblowing (that protection from bad management has to be put in place first, as opposed to this 'staff must report concerns' campaign which we have got at the moment) - then this Colchester report rather made my point for me.

    What happened to Jenny, is it appears much too commonplace - it shouldn't be !

    I'm NOT saying that everyone who raises a concern has got it right - often confusion, complication and misperceptions make everything a total mess - but if anyone has got an 'honest concern', it should be looked at (not assumed to be true, but looked into) without any 'bullying' even if it turns out not to be a problem.

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  • The temptation to be economical with the truce is endemic in NHS management which is due to the fear factor in the culture - not so much the pecking order more the bludgeoning order. Perhaps Healthwatch could offer a safe haven for whistle blowers - they dont do much else.

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  • Thank you Jenny for risking everything, your bravery is remarkable.

    You are right, the Unions (Unite and the RCN at least) are poor at putting their money where their mouth.

    I am not sure what the answer is here or if the life of any Whistle Blower will ever improve.
    You are up there along with Kim Holt, David Drew, Helene Donnelly etc etc etc. Whistle Blowers should be thanked and rewarded not treated like you and all others have been.

    Hope things go well for you.

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  • Well, Nursing Times 'Speak out Safely' campaign has just proved what a joke it is. I posted a comment about how I thought it were a disgrace that the former chief nurse of mid-staffs got a 5 year caution, yet you can post a message on Facebook and the NMC see fit to strike you from the register and NT has pulled my comment and closed the thread - so much for speaking out!

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  • michael stone

    'patrick newman | 7-Nov-2013 4:47 pm

    The temptation to be economical with the truce is endemic'

    Very perceptive Patrick - once something has escalated to a complaint, truce is indeed a rarity !

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  • When the unions start evaluating their service – to date I don’t think they have dared to do it so they don’t know what has been good and what has been a dereliction of duty – then we shall be making progress, assuming that it will be more than a paper exercise.
    Until that date, it is frustrating (to put it mildly) that the small study we undertook for CAUSE (Campaign Against Unnecessary Suspensions and Exclusions and on our www.suspension-nhs.org website) that highlighted their serious failings, anecdotally shows no sign of improving. So three cheers for the brave union reps, especially local ones, who seem to be in the minority and who fight hard for their members, and wake up the rest of the unions, protect and support your members. The ladies in the story above were very lucky and I’m glad for them. But as Jenny Nicoll wrote, so many others have been terribly let down.
    Julie Fagan Founder member of CAUSE
    PS in defence of the Nursing Times Speak Out Safely campaign, which I applaud, they were unable to allow comments due to ‘ the legal nature of this story.’

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  • Julie Fagan | 9-Nov-2013 9:00 pm
    Yes, fair enough. I am often critical of unions which represent nurses. However, the membership of these unions need to wake up and support their unions. Most members pay their dues and only ever contact theiir unions when they are in trouble. They don't vote in ballots, they don't tell their unions what they want them to do....except in the comments sections of NT. The worst recent example was the debacle over pensions. The membership didn't vote (except for the 16% or so who did) and the unions had no mandate for taking any action to register protest. So we now have a pension scheme which does not honour existing conditions, makes us work for longer, paying more into the system ( the government raided the £2b NHS pension surplus to service government debt) and receiving less in return. Unions aren't just there for when we are in trouble. They are there to fight for decent terms and conditions. Unions are only as effective as those who are their members. That is where the weakness lies.

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  • Julie Fagan,

    I actually posted a comment on the Mid Staffs NMC ruling on the actual thread. NT decided that it didn't like what I wrote and removed my post and prevent others from posting on the thread.

    I just think it smacks of the double-standards you generally find in all these stupid campaigns: they're all for speaking out against bad practice etc., but then remove comments that are mildly abrasive.

    Complete joke.

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