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Hunt urges whistleblowing guardians to tackle ‘profoundly flawed’ NHS culture


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”

Jeremy Hunt

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”

Jeremy Hunt

“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.


Readers' comments (3)

  • When we raise concerns the system slows you down. You first need to verbalise your concerns to your chain of command, step by step in most cases your chain of command ignores your emails of concerns. Some bully you also, not accepting something went wrong. I would say it s not just about the reputation. It is about making money. Who made millions of pound in london in the NHS? Royal london hospital maybe? From the data from the last Chief Executive summary for the years ahead and the quality improvement patients and staff still continue to suffer like in the Francis report but nothing has improved. Only nice checklists and action plans to claim awareness of problem and nice intents. No facts, no improvements in never events incidents. And this should be the best trust from which all the other trust could learn from? If the minimum standards over 2 years since 2016, are not met why even continue to debate about what to do next? The responsible persons should be replaced immediately following a fair investigation. But this is an action of courage for most people in power. Really tackle the status quo is a political decision also starting from top to bottom.

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  • In my years representing nurses I have never seen a whistleblower return to their place of work or indeed their role as a nurse. I have dealt with vindictive non nursing managers who threaten NMC without any idea of what charge. I have seen perpetrators manage to leave on early or medical retirement without facing any repercussions for their behaviour or allegations and I have seen senior managers moved sideways into other posts to start their bullying behaviour all over again. I'm sorry but no amount of whistle blowing guardians will give the mental of physical security for staff to come forward, a sad situation in 2018.

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  • I've noticed that in recent weeks and months there have been several articles on the 'blaming/tribal' culture and very little response in your Readers' comments. Why is this do you think.

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