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EDITOR’S COMMENT

'Alarm bells should ring when staff stay silent'

  • 6 Comments

Whistleblowers must be listened to and supported. That was the message from the health secretary Jeremy Hunt as he spoke at last week’s Patient Safety Congress.

It’s a laudable aim and one that, of course, we’d support as the now award-winning Nursing Times Speak Out Safely campaign gathers pace.

But while he says this on various conference platforms up and down the country, is anything really being done to change the culture of denial, cover up and blame in the health service?

Mr Hunt is yet to officially endorse signing up to the ambition of Speak Out Safely. And let’s face it, all SOS wants is to make organisations put a public pledge on their website to listen to those who raise concerns, and treat them with respect. Why wouldn’t the health secretary be encouraging organisations to sign up to this ambition? In fact, why do they need encouraging at all?

As we’ve said many times before, encouraging your staff to raise concerns actually saves you money as well as assuring higher quality care and safety

As we’ve said many times before, encouraging your staff to raise concerns actually saves you money as well as assuring higher quality patient care and safety.

At the conference, Mr Hunt talked about his recent visit to Virginia Mason Hospital in the US, where he described how a proud chief executive had told him how many incident reports he had had in one month - 800 (see news, page 3). It is a shame we do not have a culture where concerns are celebrated and welcomed in this way. Mr Hunt went on to evidence how this Seattle hospital had seen a 75% fall in the number of litigation claims it received between 2004-05 and 2012-13 when the number of incident reports increased from 2,696 to 9,277 annually.

This is one reason - but not the only reason - that chief executives and board directors should be begging their staff to tell them what’s wrong with their hospital and how they can fix it. Why isn’t he dictating that staff raise concerns and are asked when they’ve done so in their regular appraisals? Alarm bells should ring when they don’t raise concerns rather than when they do. Until it becomes normal practice to say something isn’t right, whistleblowers and those who raise concerns will continue to be seen - as many people told me at the Patient Safety Congress - as “troublemakers”.

We need to celebrate the people who stand up for standards. We need to say well done to the whistleblowers. We need to raise a glass to those who raise concerns. Those are the people who will make care better. Those are the people who will make care safer.

● Is your trust signed up to our award-winning Speak Out Safely campaign? Go to nursingtimes.net/sos and find out how to sign up today

Jenni Middleton, editor

jenni.middleton@emap.com. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • So what is Hunt doing about the chief execs and senior managers who insist on a "don't bring me problems, bring me solutions!" culture, who encourage the bullying into silence of those who highlight problems, who "re-structure" away the jobs of those who point out difficulties (as happened to me)?

    None of this is new: it has been known for decades that whistle blowers or those who attempt to raise concerns internally are victimised, but nothing has been done to stop this happening.

    Are the gagging clauses to be removed from contracts? The insistence that no member of staff can put anything in writing without corporate services approving it? Yes, these did happen in my last trust.

    Are senior managers who wilfully ignore senior clinicians complaints about inadequate staffing to be disciplined? Those managers who set out to "game" waiting lists and bully clinicians into lying about waiting times?

    Not holding my breath...

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  • tinkerbell

    BasketPress | 28-May-2014 2:32 pm

    Agree.

    Speaks volumes not signing up to SOS, all talk and no action.

    And for him to keep banging on about the US speaks volumes too.

    Weasel!

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  • michael stone

    'But while he says this on various conference platforms up and down the country, is anything really being done to change the culture of denial, cover up and blame in the health service?'

    That is the RIGHT question.

    While I'm at it, Jenni - did either my local CCG, or my local acute hospital, ever get back to you (we exchanged some e-mails a while ago) ?

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  • tinkerbell

    http://zoekeating.tumblr.com/post/87134171959/as-if-this-isnt-hard-enough

    Read here about US based healthcare - is that what we want? Where insurance bureaucracy decides what comes before clinical need. Where's the compassion when it's all about profit?

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  • A unique British NHS model based on the best of Europe, with a few good ideas throw in from around the world, would be just fine and quite sufficient.

    the UK seems to have no identity or is going through an ID crisis stuck between the US and Europe and being pulled in both directions but with no ideas and initiative of its own. It is all Starbucks this, MacDonald that and virgin for all the rest and they are pervading every high street and business world wide so wherever you travel everything is just exactly the same and people have lost all their imagination, creativity and motivation.

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  • In Public Health car Professionals are encouraged to whistle blow. When this happens the Whistle Blower is frowned at by their Employers rather than welcomed to help in making changes to both attitudes and issues. This whole issue is another idea being swept under the carpet/ shut in a cupboard. Not facing the truth and avoidant NHS Managers

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