'Raising concerns must be seen as the norm'
Huge congratulations to former Mid Staffs nurse whistleblower Helene Donnelly, and campaigner Julie Bailey, who received an OBE and CBE, respectively in the New Year Honours.
It says something about the culture of the NHS - and the wider society - that we now celebrate people who are prepared to stand up and say when things aren’t right and when patients’ lives are being put at risk. But although this is a fabulous way to start the new year, the fact that such acts of courage need to be lauded indicates that there is still much work to be done to ensure a safe health service.
Eight months after publication of the Francis report, an unannounced Care Quality Commission inspection at Wexham Park Hospital found serious problems “on almost all wards”, including poor cleanliness, often a lack of respect for the privacy and dignity of patients and inadequate infection control (see page 3).
While leadership and staffing gaps will have contributed to the problems, the CQC highlighted another potential cause. It found staff did not feel they could raise concerns or make suggestions for improvements and feared they would be bullied by their managers.
While honours are fantastic, I’m pretty sure Ms Donnelly and Ms Bailey would rather see a world where such acts of bravery and resilience are unnecessary
What Mid Staffs and every other scandal-hit trust have shown us is that frontline staff are best placed to identify what is wrong, and often know how to put it right - provided they are listened to.
Trust boards ignore their staff at their peril, and must avoid behaving like organisations that, in the words of Robert Francis QC, “hit the target and misses the point”.
Targets, measures and goals are important aspects of patient safety. But they are never more important than the patient.
So it is wonderful that the achievements of Ms Donnelly and Ms Bailey were recognised because they stood up for what was right. But isn’t it a shame that this should have to be the case? That a nurse was honoured because raising concerns about patient safety took real courage? And a patient’s daughter should be rewarded because the care her mother received was so harrowing she felt compelled to fight to ensure no one else endured the same fate?
While honours are fantastic, I’m pretty sure Ms Donnelly and Ms Bailey would rather see a world where such acts of bravery and resilience are unnecessary because quality and safety are the norm.
Nursing Times is working to achieve such a world with its Speak Out Safely campaign. If your organisation has not signed up, please put pressure on your board to do so today at nursingtimes.net/sos and make sure that every patient is safe.
Jenni Middleton, editor
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed