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Raising concerns: ‘A supportive environment is essential to encourage students to speak out’

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The failure to fully grasp the importance of raising concerns is surely at the heart of why things continue to go wrong, says Claire Docherty

Claire Docherty

SOS Student Ambassador, Claire Docherty


“Uncaring carers” seems to be the healthcare oxymoron of the decade, so what can we as student nurses do about this?

All too often we hear of cases where healthcare has let patients down, either through neglect, or wilful acts of uncaring behaviour. Many of us read the Mid Staffordshire inquiry report with strong emotions of anger and dismay, and as health professionals, we have a duty and a determination to set things right and ensure that cases of neglect are left in the past.

Whistleblowing is not a new idea but the term implies, as noted by the Royal College of Nursing, a sudden, or last resort process with negative connotations. This is daunting, particularly for student nurses and I feel that it would be more encouraging to be able to “discuss concerns”, where there is a supportive system in place, with people who are approachable, and will listen and back the concerns that are raised.

The Mid Staffordshire inquiry reminded us of the importance of raising concerns within healthcare, but still we hear of unacceptable care.

In 2012, Health Service Journal reported that 11 members of staff had been suspended after failing to help a 47-year old man who had collapsed and subsequently died outside a hospital’s A&E department. In the same year, two care assistants were found guilty of force-feeding talcum powder to an 89-year-old patient.

If these incidences had been reported through appropriate channels, these people could potentially have been saved, and further abuse and neglect could have been avoided.

As a second-year student nurse, I am aware of my professional responsibility to speak out and raise concerns about issues that may be concerning me within practice, or in a caring environment. The thought of having to raise a concern may be daunting and stressful as a student, and may bring up anxieties such as “not wanting to get into trouble”, or “being seen as a trouble-maker”; however, while at university you are far more likely to be penalised through failing to raise concerns.

A supportive environment is essential for students to feel willing to speak out safely. This can be achieved through providing supportive mentors and personal tutors, who the student feels that they can approach with their concerns.

In the Francis report, it was recognised that staff at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust were criticised and harassed for raising concerns, despite NICE directing that such issues would be dealt with in confidence, and the staff raising the concerns would be supported and not be punished in any way.

The failure to fully grasp the importance of raising concerns is surely at the heart of why things continue to go wrong. This has lead The Health Committee to remind us about the importance of an open culture, where staff and students are supported in raising their concerns.

Even though I am encouraged to speak out, it comforts me to know that my personal tutor and other lecturers have open doors regarding raising concerns. When on placement, it reassures me that I can approach my mentor with any problems or concerns I may have.

As well as my personal objective of protecting and caring for patients through speaking out safely, I am, as a student nurse, governed by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, who state that you must act “without delay” if someone is being put at risk, and that you are personally accountable if you fail to act in such a case.

The thought of “whistleblowing” makes me scared, and I don’t want to get others in trouble. However, I feel that I have the support in place to raise concerns in order to protect vulnerable patients in my care. If a situation occurred where I had to raise my concerns, I am confident that I would be able to speak out safely.

Many of our patients are vulnerable and can’t speak for themselves, so we owe it to them to protect them and act as their advocate. Let’s make “uncaring carers” the oxymoron of history.


Claire Docherty isin her second year studying nursing at De Montford University in Leicester and an SOS Student Ambassador

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