The health secretary has told the new whistleblowing guardians their work is at the “heart” of a change needed in the NHS to tackle a “profoundly flawed” culture around raising concerns.
Jeremy Hunt said that, despite improvements in recent years to the way staff were able to speak up about problems at work, it was still sometimes “practically impossible” for employees to raise their concerns.
“I sometimes think in our NHS today, we make that openness and transparency practically impossible”
This was often because staff were “terrified” of being reported to regulators, including the Nursing and Midwifery Council, of potentially losing their job, and of damaging the reputation of their team, he said.
The new freedom to speak up (FTSU) guardians have been appointed across all NHS trusts in England, following a review of whistleblowing in the NHS by Sir Robert Francis QC in 2015.
Speaking at a conference in London on Tuesday, which brought together guardians from across the country, Mr Hunt said staff feeling able to raise concerns was key to reducing preventable harm to patients and making the NHS safer.
“The heart of this culture change is making it easier for people to speak out when they have a concern – and changing our culture in the NHS from a blame culture into a learning culture,” he said.
“It is absolutely essential we do not let this case [Bawa-Garba] stop our NHS on its vital journey from a blaming culture to a learning culture”
“I believe, even despite the changes we’ve had in the last few years, our culture in the NHS is still profoundly flawed,” he said.
“I sometimes think in our NHS today, we make that openness and transparency practically impossible,” he later added.
“People are terrified about the NMC, GMC, CQC. They are worried the reputation of their unit will take a hit, about the reputation of their trust, in some parts of the NHS they are just worried they will get fired if they are honest and tell the trust about something that went wrong,” said Mr Hunt.
He went on to refer to the recent case of Hadiza Bawa-Garba, a doctor who was struck off the General Medical Council’s register following a conviction for manslaughter.
“It is absolutely essential we do not let this case stop our NHS on its vital journey from a blaming culture to a learning culture,” he said.