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Opinion Extra

Safe staffing and the Nursing Times “Speak out safely” campaign

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Despite clear differences in opinion about what has happened in the past, patients, whistleblowers and relatives appear to want the same thing: a safe NHS where you do not go into hospital as a risky event in itself.

Despite clear differences in opinion about what has happened in the past, Julie Bailey, Deb Hazeldine, Andy Burnham, Jeremy Hunt, the Unions, bloggers, experts, other patients, whistleblowers, and relatives at face value appear to want the same thing: a safe NHS where you do not go into hospital as a risky event in itself.

Julie Bailey, who is widely acknowledged to have helped to expose the horrific neglect at Stafford Hospital, is reported to say ‘vipers’ have victimised her ever since she set up Cure the NHS. Julie started the pressure group in her own cafe following the death of her mother at the hospital.

Andy Burnham and Alan Johnson, it is alleged, have refused an inquiry 81 times.

Gary Walker had long wanted to speak out about what happened when he lost his job in the NHS. But he had signed a “super gag”, and with family to feed and the fear of where his next job would come from, he felt he had no option but to stay quiet. He says it was because he wanted to abandon the 18-week target for non-emergency cases as the demand for hospital beds in 2008 and 2009 became desperate.

Dr Kim Holt was a paediatrician who, with three colleagues, warned management of problems, including understaffing and poor record-keeping, at the hospital where Baby P was treated just before he died. Dr Holt claimed that bosses ignored her warnings and removed her from the clinic. They subsequently issued a joint apology with Haringey Primary Care Trust.

Helene Donnelly (@DonnellyHelene), as a Mid Staffs whistleblower, describes: “how the department frequently manipulated waiting times records to report delivering targets when actually patients were waiting on trolleys in corridors for many hours.” And so it goes on.

And despite the potential explosive differences in perspectives, there are real experiences involved, and it is never going to be possible to please everyone. And many of these people have faced some quite horrific and vocal opposition about various allegations.

The issue of safe staffing in nursing has become the totemic pervasive core issue of secondary care safety, and no amount of parliamentary time one suspects will ever do proper justice to it. In reply to a question from Valerie Vaz, who is herself on the Health Select Committee, Jeremy Hunt immediately quoted the Nursing Times and the Francis Report (from Tuesday 16 July 2013).

The aim of the Nursing Times’ Speak Out Safely (SOS) campaign is to help bring about an NHS that is not only honest and transparent but also actively encourages staff to raise the alarm and protects them when they do so.

They want:

  1. The government to introduce a statutory duty of candour compelling health professionals and managers to be open about care failings
  2. Trusts to add specific protection for staff raising concerns to their whistleblowing policies
  3. The government to undertake a wholesale review of the Public Interest Disclosure Act, to ensure whistleblowers are fully protected.

A very impressive gamut of organisations have supported the “Nursing Times Speak Out Safely” campaign, including Cure the NHS, the Florence Nightingale Foundation, the Foundation of Nursing Studies, Mencap Whistleblowing Hotline, Patients First, Public Concern at Work, Queen’s Nursing Institute, Royal College of Nursing, Unite (including the Community Practitioners and Health Visitors Association and Mental Health Nurses Association), and WeNurses.

Also, for example, according to the Royal College of Midwives, maternity staff must be able to publicly raise concerns about the safety of mother and babies without fear of reprisal from their employers, according to the Royal College of Midwives. This college has been the latest organisation to support the Speak Out Safely campaign. They are calling for the creation of an open and transparent NHS, where staff can raise concerns knowing they will be handled appropriately and without fear of bullying.

The pledge of the Speak Out Safely campaign of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust is a pretty typical example of the way in which this campaign has successfully reached out to all people who have the focused aspiration of patient safety:

“This trust supports the Nursing Times Speak Out Safely campaign. This means we encourage any staff member who has a genuine patient safety concern to raise this within the organisation at the earliest opportunity.

Patient safety is our prime concern and our staff are often best placed to identify where care may be falling below the standard our patients deserve. In order to ensure our high standards continue to be met, we want every member of our staff to feel able to raise concerns with their line manager, or another member of the management team. We want everyone in the organisation to feel able to highlight wrongdoing or poor practice when they see it and confident that their concerns will be addressed in a constructive way.

We promise that where staff identify a genuine patient safety concern, we shall not treat them with prejudice and they will not suffer any detriment to their career. Instead, we will support them, fully investigate and, if appropriate, act on their concern. We will also give them feedback about how we have responded to the issue they have raised, as soon as possible.

It is not disloyal to colleagues to raise concerns; it is a duty to our patients. Misconduct or malpractice should never be tolerated, while mistakes and poor practice may reveal a colleague needs more training or support, or that we need to change systems or processes. Your concerns will be dealt with in an open and supportive manner because we rely on you to ensure we deliver a safe service and ensure patient safety is not put at risk. We also want this organisation to have the confidence to admit to mistakes and to use them as learning opportunities.

Whether you are a permanent employee, an agency or temporary staff member, or a volunteer, please speak up when you feel something is wrong. We want you to be able to Speak Out Safely.”


Extract from Socialist Health Association


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