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Academics to review whistleblowing support for students

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Whistleblowing support for student nurses is to be reviewed by the body that represents UK university health faculties, as a part of a project to help higher education institutions assist their students with speaking out about concerns.

The project follows the publication of a major investigation by Sir Robert Francis earlier this year into the treatment of whistleblowers.

“[Our member universities] are very interested in this [what whistleblowing support they can provide to students] and are keen for us to do this work”

Rachel Craine

It found students were often bullied or received negative feedback on their placements after raising concerns.

Some respondents to the review also criticised universities for automatically taking the side of mentors when a student spoke up.

The Council of Deans of Health said it wanted to find out how far-ranging these problems are and what additional support might need to be put in place by universities for healthcare students.

It has commissioned the University of Bedfordshire to carry out a literature review of evidence. It will look at barriers to raising concerns, such as the culture of trust placements, the impact of mentors, and conflicts between staff.

Other barriers to be considered include the impact of the university – such as link lecturers – the student’s own confidence in speaking out, and how easy it is to use and understand the official processes for lodging a concern.

The literature review will also investigate whether national policies – such as the chief nursing officer’s “6Cs” or the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s code of conduct – affect student behaviours in speaking out about bad practice.

“This [students raising concerns] is a complex thing. We are trying to work out if this is a big problem and what can be done to address it”

Rachel Craine

It is also expected to identify good practice and will produce recommendations for universities.

Rachel Craine, senior policy officer at the Council of Deans, is leading the work on the literature review.

She said: “The feedback that we’ve had from members is that they’re very interested in this and is something they support us looking into. They are keen for us to do this work.

“Some of what we’re looking at has come out of the Freedom to Speak Up Review and students’ role in raising concerns,” she said. “Part of the literature review is also about looking at the barriers and enablers [to raising concerns].”

“This is a complex thing. We are trying to work out if this is a big problem and what can be done to address it,” she added.

The project is being overseen by a steering group comprised of academics from Oxford Brookes, Birmingham City University and Anglia Ruskin University.

The literature review is expected to be completed by the end of the year, with recommendations published shortly after.

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