I’m absolutely delighted that the Nursing Times’ SOS campaign is being extended to include schools of nursing.
All staff, whether trained or in training, have a moral responsibility to speak out about poor care, but students may feel they are in a particularly vulnerable position when doing so.
I am particularly fierce about standing up for patients, and know it is well within my rights to do so, but even I would be terrified to have to report a mentor. I’m just not sure that I would do it. I’m scared that I would fail the placement, or worse, that my place on the course would be in jeopardy if I ended up having to take things further.
Would I risk watching my future go down in flames while I’m busy doing the right thing?
I don’t know. And I bet many others feel the same.
The reality is that many universities simply do not support their students in reporting incidents or attitudes that worry them, and we need to make sure that they do that for us.
A friend of a friend (different course, different uni, you definitely don’t know her…) found on her first ever placement that things just weren’t right. Fragile, elderly patients were being lifted manually by staff with no training, pressure sores were not being prevented or properly dealt with and one nurse asked her to wash an old man’s eyes with shampoo to treat his conjunctivitis.
She emailed her course tutor with her concerns, and after a long wait, received a rather curt reply.
The response included a link to the university policy on whistleblowing, and a reminder that without concrete proof of any wrongdoing, she should not proceed with her complaint.
Although she was not specifically told to keep quiet, it was very much implied that if she were to continue expressing concerns about this placement area then she would not have the support of her university.
At 18 years old, with no prior work experience or knowledge of the law, she quite simply did not know what to do. Intimidated and concerned for her own future, she swiftly dropped the matter, vowing never to apply for a job at the trust and silently hoping that someone else would speak out.
This is sadly not an unusual response from universities, but it absolutely should not be like this.
I will be on at my uni to sign up to the campaign, mainly so that I can be reassured of getting support when (if!) I need it, and so that my classmates will too.
I hope that all schools of nursing want to support their students through their training in every way they can, and unfortunately blowing the whistle may at some point be a part of that. If they want to train us to be the best nurses, they need to teach us how to flag up poor care properly, professionally, and without fear of recrimination.
Rachael Starkey is Student Nursing Times’ child branch editor and an SOS Student Ambassador