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EDITOR’S COMMENT

'Speak Out Safely: hiding the truth is just hiding the harm'

  • 31 Comments

The launch of our Speak Out Safely campaign, which seeks to protect those who raise concerns about NHS care, was covered by Sky News, the BBC, The Telegraph, national radio and many other national and local print, digital and broadcast media following its launch on 3 March.

We predicted our campaign would get a fair degree of attention. After all, the national media has been obsessed with the idea that patients are being put at risk by cover-ups and pay-offs since 14 February when former United Hospitals Lincolnshire Trust chief executive Gary Walker alleged he had been gagged by NHS bosses, then attempted his own Valentine’s Day Massacre of NHS top brass. He’s due to give evidence to the Health Select Committee on 19 March.

Sign our Speak out Safely petition and support an open and transparent NHS

We were all bracing ourselves for days of attacks on nursing and other health professions after Robert Francis QC published his observations into what went wrong at Mid Staffordshire. But a bigger story was brewing. “Walkergate” ended up getting higher-profile exposure than any of Mr Francis’ 290 recommendations.

We were shocked by the number of nurses, doctors and patients who told us about things that had gone wrong, and who had been silenced when they exposed the truth

Last year’s Nursing Times summit focused on raising concerns and whistleblowing. We saw then health professionals who have the courage to speak out are often not treated consistently or fairly. Until people across the whole of the NHS are able to stand up and say things are not right, patients will, of course, be at risk.

When we started our campaign to do something about this, we were shocked by the number of nurses, doctors and patients who contacted us about things that had gone wrong, and how they had been silenced when they tried to expose the truth.

Last week, I met Jeremy Hunt, secretary of state for health, and he promised to meet with me to discuss this campaign.

The main objectives of Speak Out Safely are to persuade the government to implement the Francis recommendations on whistleblowing and strengthen the protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, and to push healthcare providers to make it explicit in their whistleblowing policies that staff who raise genuine concerns will not be disciplined. But the campaign is about more than that. It’s about everyone in the NHS being open to the idea that things do go wrong and, when they do, the only way to learn from them is to be open about them.

Hiding the truth is just hiding the harm. It’s time for everyone - managers and colleagues - to make this change.

If you haven’t signed our petition, please do so now at tinyurl.com/NTSOS-petition. Your signature will make all the difference.

Visit our Speak out Safely page to find out more.

Jenni Middleton, editor

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

  • 31 Comments

Readers' comments (31)

  • The woman accused of gagging a whistleblower who was raising concerns about patient safety has been given one of the most powerful roles in the NHS.

    Dame Barbara Hakin has been made interim deputy chief executive of the new body in charge of the health service, second only to its head Sir David Nicholson.
    She is said to have helped authorise a payment of £500,000 to silence the chief executive of a hospital trust where 670 patients are feared to have died needlessly.

    Anyone still believe David Cameron's promise to make it safe for staff to whistleblow?
    Its the same old sameold, those who gag the whistleblowers are promoted. Truly disgusting.


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  • Same old, same old, the management keep getting rewarded for failure whilst the rest of us mostly hardworking nurses are left to take the blame as the NMC never fights our corner. Hospital managers around the country are on a perpetual merry go round...they mess up one area so are moved to another repeatedly & when the have messed up every directorate in one trust they move to another after receiving a pay off. I have worked as a nurse for almost 30 years, & yes our pension used to be reasonable, but I have never had a bonus & my pay has been frozen & in reality has reduced over this time. Staffordshire could happen in any hospital in the country sadly as managers spout the right words but the reality is that quality is suffering whether they admit it or not as we have to keep doing more & more with less & less. If we voice our concerns we are told our jobs are at risk & basically shut up & put up or else you're out. Sad situation & poor patients

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  • Manager of scandal-hit hospital promoted by Sir David Nicholson
    Sir David Nicholson, the embattled head of the NHS, has appointed as his deputy a hospital manager accused of suppressing an investigation into high death rates.

    Dame Barbara is now the deputy chief executive of the NHS Commissioning Board

    Barbara Hakin, the former head of the NHS in the West Midlands, has been accused of blocking an external review of mortality rates at United Lincolnshire NHS Trust, and effectively forcing the resignation of the hospital’s chief executive after he raised concerns.
    She is understood to be facing a General Medical Council investigation into her conduct. On Monday she was promoted to one of the most senior roles in the health service.
    Dame Barbara is now the deputy chief executive of the NHS Commissioning Board, the body run by Sir David that is charged with overseeing the health service from next month in the wake of government reforms.
    Senior health figures described the appointment as tantamount to Sir David “putting two fingers up to the public” amid widespread criticism of his own conduct.
    Dozens of MPs and the relations of those who died at the Mid Staffordshire hospitals as a result of poor care have demanded that Sir David resign.

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  • OK, I am going to liken this to a prominent case in the news at the moment. Jimmy Saville could have been stopped as early as 1964 but the person whistleblowing on him was basically bullied and threatened if they continued with their claims. More people who came forward were also told they could receive prison sentences for making accusations etc.

    The people in power can still bully and threaten to ensure our careers are destroyed. Managers still turn a blind eye to what is happening.

    This campaign will not change anything and those in power will exploit and manipulate those who dare to speak out. We will not be protected. Who is really going to do this, The Nursing Times? Doubtful. They don't have to work on the wards any more. The government? That was a joke I made there. The NMC certainly won't. The Unions might say please don't but are more interested at the moment with other issues.

    This campaign will flounder and stutter before it starts. I am not hopeful. Why? Because I live and work in the REAL world.

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  • I believe that this lady, Laura Roberts, was Chief Executive of NHS Manchester when Jennie Fecitt and others 'blew the whistle'.

    (please see:-
    https://www.nursingtimes.net/nursing-practice/clinical-zones/management/whistleblower-forced-to-pay-trusts-legal-bills-backs-nursing-times-campaign/5055674.article)

    Laura Roberts, is now of Head of Provider Leadership Development at Department of Health.

    It is unfortunate but it looks like there are rewards for people who ‘deal with’ whistle blowers.

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  • Embattled NHS boss Sir David Nicholson was accused of ‘sticking two fingers up to patients’ yesterday as ministers expressed private astonishment at his appointment of a controversial new deputy.
    Both Tory and Labour MPs criticised the elevation of Dame Barbara Hakin, the former head of the NHS in the West Midlands, despite claims that she gagged a whistleblower who was raising concerns about high patient death rates.

    She is understood to dispute the allegations against her but is facing a General Medical Council investigation into her conduct.

    Says it all, what hope for whistleblowers.

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  • Dame Barbara is said to have helped authorise a payment of £500,000 to silence the chief executive of a hospital trust where 670 patients are feared to have died needlessly. She is also being investigated by the GMC for allegedly quashing a report into high death rates at the trust, United Lincolnshire, in 2009.
    Labour MP Graham Stringer is among the politicians who have criticised the appointment
    Gary Walker, the whistleblower allegedly gagged by Dame Barbara, was chief executive of United Lincolnshire Hospitals until 2010 when he was sacked after warning Dame Barbara that targets were being put ahead of patients.
    He was later given a £500,000 payoff on the condition he keep quiet about shocking standards at the hospital. Last month he broke his silence to claim that Dame Barbara, then head of the East Midlands Strategic Health Authority supervising the hospital, had ordered him to prioritise targets.
    Last week Sir David Nicholson told MPs that gagging orders were ‘completely and utterly unacceptable.’ Six days later he promoted Dame Barbara to be his deputy.

    What more can one say!


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  • George Kuchanny

    Exremely good and timely editorial. High praise from a nit picking old curmudgeon like me I can tell you.

    It highlights the very core of why the culture within any self contained pocket of the NHS is so vitally important.

    I have renewed my subscripion as a sign of approval.

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  • Can I ask a question please?
    WHY?
    I mean why is this happening at all?
    Why are whistleblowers bullied into silence?
    Am I being silly and missing something?

    People in power are afraid of whistleblowers, they must be. Afraid their own power structures will collapse all around them and then they show the world they are bullies and terrified of anybody who will rock their boat and throw them into the water.

    You see they know they are doing wrong, when patients die when they could have lived. And when they get told to their faces, they feel threatened and frightened.
    So they strike out.
    At anything that moves.
    Why?
    They know what they are doing is wrong. Yet this crashes with their own self image of being hard working and loyal and serving the greater good. So they try and remove the threat by payment or by destroying.

    The most frightening thing is these people are powerful so everybody wants to be on their side or they may be in the firing line, they may be bullied too.

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  • The key point in all of this is the lack of political will to cut through all the bureaucratic bluster, denial and defence of the indefensible. David Cameron can put a stop to gagging orders, bullying and the rest by rounding up all the culpable high profile figures and sacking them or, better, prosecuting them for causing deaths by negligence. If necessary, roll out primary legislation to criminalise management behaviour likely to cause death, suffering and distress. This will send out a very powerful message to anyone in the NHS presently working their way up the management greasy pole, or contemplating joining, that the public and colleagues will not tolerate them, their indifference,or their psychopath tendencies.

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