Having the courage to speak out when you notice things are wrong is essential for ensuring patient care and safety. It’s not just something you should do, it’s something you must do.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council code of conduct insists nurses must speak up when they see care failings.
But if you read the papers, you’ll believe that raising concerns means losing your job or being terrorised by your manager and colleagues. In fact nurses are speaking out and making a positive change across the NHS. But sometimes the results are not so good.
In last week’s issue of Nursing Times, Helene Donnelly, who did speak out about the appalling care she was witnessing at Mid Staffs, told us how she was bullied and sidelined as a result.
Gary Walker, former chief executive at United Lincolnshire Hospital Trust, claimed his former trust tried to prevent him raising concerns about patient safety on the BBC’s Today programme on 14 February. Since then, he has become something of a cause célèbre. He says a flood of clinicians and managers have contacted him to talk about the terrible way they were treated when they raised concerns.
We believe that creating a culture of openness throughout the NHS about every aspect of its service and care is the only way to ensure patient safety
There is no doubt the NHS has made mistakes in the way it handles staff who flag up issues. In the 2013 NHS Staff Survey, 55% of respondents say they don’t think their organisation would handle a complaint effectively if they did voice concerns.
So this week, we are launching our Speak Out Safely campaign. We are petitioning the government to implement the Francis recommendations around the duty of candour because we believe that creating a culture of openness throughout the NHS about every aspect of its service and care is the only way to ensure patient safety. You can only improve if you admit where you are getting it wrong - and learn from it, instead of trying to conceal mistakes.
But we want to be sure that staff are protected when they do raise genuine concerns - whether about their own mistakes or those they have seen others make. We are calling on trusts to make explicit that, unless a criminal offence has been committed or it is not safe for a professional to practise, staff will not be subject to disciplinary action and will be protected from bullying by managers or colleagues. We hope the prime minister’s opinion article (page 7) is a sign the government will support this campaign.
● Follow the latest news on our Speak Out Safely campaign on Twitter at
@NursingTimesSOS and nursingtimes.net/SOS
Jenni Middleton, editor
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed