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'Back our campaign and put patient safety first'

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We are delighted to have health minister Dr Dan Poulter’s support for the Nursing Times Speak out Safely campaign.

He reveals that he endorses our campaign to make the NHS a safer place by encouraging staff to speak out when they see poor care and supporting them when they do.

While he was speaking to us, simultaneously at last week’s Patient Safety Congress in Birmingham, there was a fair degree of buzz about the campaign.

Dr Phil Hammond, chairing many of the sessions, wore his NTSOS wristband with pride, and encouraged others to do the same.

Baby P whistleblower Kim Holt, in a session with General Medical Council chief executive Niall Dickson, spoke eloquently about the stress of being a whistleblower. She said that often those who raised concerns were high achievers, who were only challenging practice because they had strong ethics. The loss of their jobs, therefore, was emotionally traumatic as well as financially crippling.

Four of the most famous whistleblowers in the UK joined the NTSOS panel at the congress the following day. Dr Holt joined Helene Donnelly, the former A&E nurse at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust; former Walsall Hospital paediatrician David Drew and former United Hospitals Lincolnshire Trust chief executive Gary Walker. They commented it was somewhat telling that three out of four of them had the word “former” on their name badges.

Their stories chilled the audience - Mr Walker spoke about mistakes that had caused deaths, which trusts failed to learn from, tales of harassment from Ms Donnelly that bordered on playground bullying, attempts to silence Dr Drew as he tried to protect dying babies, and the sidelining of Dr Holt for raising safety concerns.

Audience members were polled on their views about raising concerns, and a staggering 30% said they had raised a concern at work but felt it had not been dealt with properly, while 26% had not raised a concern and regretted it afterwards. What deterred 43% of them was that they felt that nothing would be done about it.

NHS organisations must learn to view criticism as an opportunity to improve patient care and safety, and tell those who have been affected what it intends to do to put it right.

Losing your job or being put on gardening leave can be used to discredit staff, but instead of trying to silence the “problem”, isn’t it better to face up to it, admit where the care has gone wrong and put it right? We think so. Sign our petition and back our campaign at

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