It looks like the tide is turning on attitudes to people who speak up about poor healthcare practice.
The public vindication of nurse whistleblower Elaine Fernandez, covered in last week’s issue of Nursing Times, proves that those who have been silenced for too long are at long last being listened to.
And other changes are on the horizon too. After months of lobbying by Nursing Times and Action against Medical Accidents among others, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has finally agreed to take forward Sir Robert Francis’ recommendation and implement a statutory duty of candour in England from October (see page 5).
Mr Hunt has also launched Sign up to Safety, asking individuals and organisations to make a public pledge to deliver harm-free care, reducing avoidable harm by 50% and saving 6,000 lives in the next three years.
At the core of this is listening to patients, carers and staff, learning from what they say when things go wrong and taking action to improve patient safety. Sounds a lot like the Nursing Times Speak Out Safely campaign to us. But we’re proud to think we may have inspired Mr Hunt to actively encourage staff to speak out.
But let’s not pretend this problem is fixed. It will take more than the government saying what should happen - it’s employers who must make sure it does happen. And while we’re delighted that almost 100 NHS organisations have signed up to SOS, that leaves an awful lot apparently unwilling to support staff who raise concerns.
There are still too many health professionals afraid to challenge their colleagues or managers. Those who blow the whistle are still losing their jobs for no good reason, and patients are still suffering because others fear to speak out.
It should be the norm for employees to raise concerns. Things will go wrong, you will see them and you should be encouraged to speak up by organisations that see concerns as an opportunity to learn and improve care. How about making this a mandatory part of appraisals and revalidation - reflection on what you’ve seen, what you’ve challenged and what you’ve changed in the past year?
What else could be done to make health safer? Tell us on Twitter using the hashtag #NTSOS. You never know, Mr Hunt might even use your ideas - we think he may keep an eye on our hashtag.
And for the many organisations not yet signed up to SOS, show your commitment to safer care by signing up today. Go to nursingtimes.net/sos
Jenni Middleton, editor
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed