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'Raising concerns helped me improve healthcare culture'


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.

Sharon Mason


Readers' comments (3)

  • Sharon I understand you want to believe that much has changed but it clearly has not. It is the exact reason of protecting family members from the public/ community eye that speaking up can only go so far. Many can do entirely the right thing and then there is simply the question of justice. But if any institution is unwilling to ensure obvious justice due to effect of reputation from supoorting those speaking up, then your piece is simply blowing in the wind.

    The new approach of government protecting whistleblowers will fail where continuous improvement will falter and is used to cut costs, and thus an eventual default return to a regulators approach. How many whistleblowers already have suffered at the hands of their regulator?

    For me homelessness is potentially on the cards, but I'd rather that for myself, then family to suffer public scrutiny. I'm not saying you are Sharon, but care staff shouldn't be manipulated for the purpose of government agendas or closing hospitals down to further a privitisation agenda.

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  • That is an interesting view and one which begs the question to whether government, regulators and organisations are desperate to control an increasing out of control situation and twisted narratives?

    We all know in a black and white society of corporate right or left wing rhetoric there are winners and losers, but it is this rhetoric that is allowing people who have spoken up to adapt beyond it rather than adopt to an attempt by the establishment to quieten them. We are as it were in a stage of events where there is a real worry of almost state sponsored whistleblowers furthering a corrupt agenda. But where the issue is based on admitng false fault of selves to be excused rather than poor management, government cost cutting, political correctness and external conditions we are alluding away from true progress.

    The preoccupation with corporate processes rather than heart with intellect demands the need for Socratic questioning more and more when it comes to direct care. In conclusion to those who see in black and white terms it is ultimately the mechanization of soulless automaton processing care vs those who represent archetypes of togetherness with heart and mind.

    It is not an issue of conspiracy but simply well-being of all vs cost and greed. The stories of blame, care staff, familes, patients and union reps having to suffer is terrible. It is not enough for regulators to find excuses any more and the notion that many if them are not fit for purpose holds strong in such circumstances.

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  • In today's telegraph, chief pharmacist whistleblower told too honest to work in NHS by her lawyer who wouldn't report his neighbours for cheating fellow citizens of their country on their taxes for fear of destroying his relations with them!

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