After a negative experience of raising concerns, Sharon Mason explains why other nurses should not be dissuaded from doing so
Walking away from poor care, particularly when it comes to the vulnerability and safety of patients, is simply not an option.
However, I was a victim of bullying and intimidation after raising concerns and as a consequence I lost my job in 2009.
My determination to share my story comes from having been wronged after reporting wrongdoings and a sense that what happened to me could happen to others who speak up about poor practices.
I turned around what was a profoundly debilitating experience for me and my family that could have led to us losing our home.
”I was a victim of bullying and intimidation after raising concerns”
After researching whistleblowing I escalated my concerns externally to my local MP, Mr Ivan Lewis, who was tremendously supportive.
On reflection I left it too late to escalate my concerns externally thinking that I needed to go through an internal process first. I believed that someone in the trust would see what was happening, but leaving it too late meant I was dismissed by the time I researched whistleblowing.
I was mindful that escalating externally may be deemed vindictive or for my own personal gain and I was afraid that nobody would believe me.
But after raising concerns, I then provided evidence on patient safety at an employment hearing that I initiated and following investigations and a return to practice appeared before a fitness to practice hearing at the NMC.
It was new territory for me but I maintained my honesty and integrity and was heard - later learning that by taking things as far as I did I influenced changes in the NHS.
”It was new territory for me but I maintained my honesty and integrity and was heard”
During the hearing, the NMC made some complimentary comments about my practice, however I was affected by the proceedings and experienced challenging emotional issues when I returned to work which I was supported through with counselling.
My journey was long and arduous. I was seriously injured from the treatment I received after raising concerns, my mental health sometimes having a knock-on effect on my physical health and I almost lost my nursing career entirely.
I have shared experiences since while working in various hospitals and in the community, within the NHS and in the independent sector to raise awareness and to initiate changes to improve patient experiences, safety and outcomes.
But how does sharing my experience impact on nurses that are experiencing similar treatment right now after speaking up? Treatment that is so subtle and difficult to explain.
You may find yourself in situations of disciplinary action after reporting an incident and do not know where to turn.
Sharing my experience hopefully leads you to referring to your organisation’s whistleblowing guidelines and that of the NMC and your union collectively – please don’t be afraid because there has since been great work in improving protection and support for whistleblowers.
”My experiences have made me determined to improve a culture and see positive changes”
My experiences have made me determined to improve a culture and see positive changes; I contribute to NMC, NHS England and CQC multi-agency collaborations, pilots and guidelines to improve services and standards, including the joint NHS England, HSJ and Nursing Times “Challenge Top Down Change Campaign” last year. The tool kit developed from that can be accessed online.
I was one of many whistleblowers that contributed to Sir Robert Francis’ ‘Freedom to Speak’ review.
This work is ongoing and guidance on appointing and developing local freedom to speak up guardians will be concluded this spring. I believe that the ‘guardians’ appointed should be independent, renowned for their compassion and caring, their autonomy, honesty and integrity.
My journey has not been without turmoil, but it is important to acknowledge the immense support that I have received from those already mentioned, and from the RCN; including positive responses from Secretary of State for Health Rt. Hon. Jeremy Hunt who listened when communicating concerns - my gratitude for all support received knows no bounds.
If you are suffering in any way after raising concerns I hope that in sharing my own personal experiences I’ve helped you to realise that there are processes in place to support those that escalate concerns.
You too can turn what was a negative experience into positive outcomes – speak up early in the interest of patients, please don’t leave it too late that it seriously affects your health and wellbeing, or your family – remember, you are not alone.