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Whistleblowing Mid Staffs nurse too scared to walk to car after shift


A whistleblowing nurse from Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust has told how she was physically threatened by colleagues after raising concerns about standards in the accident and emergency department.

Giving evidence to the public inquiry ito failings at the trust, Helene Donnelly said A&E was short staffed and lacked equipment when she joined in 2004, but problems worsened when its manager left in 2006 and a culture of fear developed under the two sisters who took over. Ms Donnelly said “massaging” waiting times figures to meet the four hour target was common.

After one particularly fraught shift in 2007 – during which she said she had been sworn at by one of the sisters and there had been a number of breaches of the four hour target – Ms Donnelly made a statement setting out her concerns.

Following this, the sisters were suspended and subsequently cleared of wrong doing by the trust. But Ms Donnelly said she faced criticisms from some of her colleagues for speaking out and was warned to “watch her back”.

She told the inquiry “threats to my physical safety were made” to the point where, after finishing a night shift, she would have a family member “come and collect me from work because I was too afraid to walk to my car in the dark on my own”.

Ms Donnelly also told the inquiry she contacted her local Royal College of Nursing representative Adrian Legan, who initially seemed shocked by what she told him but ultimately told her to “keep my head down”. She later found out he was also representing one of the sisters.

Asked if she thought the bullying stemmed from pressure to meet targets, Ms Donnelly said it was more to do with a “historical culture of poor care”.

“Sometimes it was just pure meanness and nastiness, targeted not just at staff but at patients as well, which I think was the thing that shocked me the most,” she said. “Having worked in other trusts – both before and since – it’s just something that I hadn’t experienced elsewhere.”

Both sisters, one of whom has since left the trust, are now being investigated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

Last week the trust experienced fresh criticism when the Care Quality Commission issued it with a warning notice over staffing levels in A&E, following a visit in September that found it was short staffed with insufficient suitably qualified nurses on duty.

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Readers' comments (8)

  • michael stone

    I've commented about this before - complaining about 'bad things' TO 'the bad institution itself' is a nightmare scenario !

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  • Despicable. But typical.

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  • michael stone

    Relatives also ahve very bad experiences of complaints-handling, as this letter in today's Times (which exactly mirrors my own experience) shows:

    Sir, What really worried me, when I observed and experienced terrible lapses of care in a hospital, was that the hospital was not interested in the things I'd seen going wrong. It was fixated on my making an official complaint, which would have taken up to six months and which required names of nurses, times and dates of incidents, and so on.
    What I had experienced was day by day lack of care, lack of training and general incompetence. The hospital should have thanked me for drawing the problems to its attention. Instead it put up barriers to prevent people from telling it what's wrong.
    Until hospitals welcome feedback, however painful they might find it, they will never improve the quality of their care.

    Susan Taylor, Sherbourn In Elmet, Leeds

    If a patient or relative makes an official complaint the staff all become very unhelpful and defensive (making sure 'no blame attaches to me personally'), whereas informal complaints tend to be ignored and not looked into seriously.

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  • Yeh! Bloody typical isn't it.
    Why doesn't this current National 'Il'l health Service staff get the message.
    Instead of using bullying tactics on those who are willing to stand up on shoddy workmanship or other issues, why don't you SUPPORT them, especially if their allegations have been proven.
    Blimey, it seems as though we don't need this present government to destroy this unique establishment... just let the 'inmates' do it for themselves.
    Nurse! Nurse! Take me back to the mediactions running out!

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  • Unfortunately this is nothing new I have mentioned this before, if you complain or point out things are not done right you are seen as a trouble maker and you can forget about promotion because who wants to work with someone who insists on being fair and doing the right thing by patients and colleagues. I wonder? is it only nurses who behave like this towards one another or do other professions in the nhs behave in this manner

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  • Nurses have always been their own worst enemy, in my 38+ years experience. Many seem to get their glory by pulling others down.

    That is not a reflection on the nurse in this article, as clearly this nurse was doing the 'right thing' identifying poor practice and staffing levels. It is the 'bullies' that are seeking some sort of glory. No wonder the press give us such a bashing, when organisations fail to address such serious issues and allow such bullying tactics to exist. Shame on them that allow it to happen and shame on the bullies.

    Anonymous | 17-Oct-2011 5:59 pm
    'Blimey, it seems as though we don't need this present government to destroy this unique establishment... just let the 'inmates' do it for themselves' true!!!

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 17-Oct-2011 11:39 pm

    I don't know if nurses bicker/bully each other more than other clinicians. But there are reported cases of consultant doctors, who raise issues, and then complain of being hounded/victimised by management or colleagues. But doctors usually seem to claim that senior management tries to bully them into keeping quiet, which is probably not quite the same issue.

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  • If anyone is interested - here is a Court of Appeal ruling from 25th October - one of these whistle blowers had threat made to her that she would have her house burnt down:-

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