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'We must support Patients First Scotland to help whistleblowers'

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Why Patient First Scotland’s want the Scottish Government to adopt the Freedom to Speak Up review into the treatment of whistleblowers

Dave Thompson

At the end of March I met with Annie Norman, Patients First Scotland coordinator and staff nurse at Raigmore Hospital, along with other members of PFS and Shona Robison, the cabinet secretary for health, wellbeing and sport in the Scottish Parliament. We discussed PFS’ desire to encourage the Scottish Government to adopt the Freedom to Speak Up review into the treatment of whistleblowers.

Currently, health professionals who raise concerns over patient safety may be bullied and their issue turned into an employment problem. This can result in severe mental health problems, loss of career, financial insecurity, unemployment and even marriage breakdown.

I am supportive of PFS’ aims to create a better environment for health professionals who wish to raise concerns about patient care. These professionals have a duty of care to patients to do their best by them and I am confident that duty will be maintained. The issue of the patient’s safety is often lost as a result of the punitive treatment that results from whistleblowing; this offers no worthwhile benefit to the patient or staff so PFS are calling on the Scottish Government to do more to develop safe systems enhancing the much-needed culture change in the NHS today.

The Scottish Government has already created the NHSScotland Confidential Alert Line for employees; initially launched as a pilot on 2 April 2013, it was announced in March this year that it would continue. This is great news, as this positive addition will allow health boards to be alerted to potential problems in their area, so issues are dealt with in a timely and effective manner.

In the thematic review of Patients First UK, PFS was represented as 23% of cases were from Scotland. Despite the NHS in Scotland being devolved, this highlights a problem that is UK wide and must be tackled.

Ms Robison welcomed the review, but made it clear the final agreement had yet to be reached over which aspects would be adopted in Scotland. However, the fact that the Scottish Government is inclined to implement some of the recommendations shows recognition of Francis’ findings.

Ms Norman used the meeting to ask the health minister about her strategy to help health boards tackle bullying in the workplace. Ms Robison said she felt the whistleblower alert line gave staff an avenue to raise concerns and that the creation of guardians in health boards, as recommended by Sir Robert Francis, gave further scope for safe reporting by frontline staff. It was agreed in principle that the idea of guardians is a good one, but it is yet to be ironed out by the Scottish government.

PFS was also keen to emphasise how there is a detrimental effect on staff as a result of mistreatment and that the financial cost of this negative behaviour must be enormous.

There is a need to create a culture in the NHS where reporting is not met with recrimination; there is a need to create a working environment that makes it easier to raise concerns without facing a punitive response.

We need to build an NHS of which we can be proud, an NHS where those who dedicate their lives to patient care feel as though they will be listened to when everthey need to speak out.

In trying to change the culture of our NHS we need to focus on reconstructing outmoded attitudes to create an atmosphere where name calling, bullying, intimidation and any form of victimisation has no place - this is why I am in support of PFS’ call to help make that change a reality.

Dave Thompson is Member of the Scottish Parliament for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch

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