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'Don’t let horror stories put you off speaking out'


The nursing profession has been dogged by stories of poor care recently, but the health sector relies on nursesthemselves to speak out when they see unacceptable care.

However, nurses who have been called as witnesses in fitness to practise hearings in the past have told me they found the experience traumatic. Facing the person they are providing evidence against and being questioned about what they claim to have seen or heard is obviously a recipe for anxiety.

As if to prove the point, the General Medical Council has decided to offer independent emotional support to those giving evidence in GMC hearings before and during the day of the hearing. The regulator and Victim Support have launched a joint initiative to offer the service to anyone making a complaint to the GMC as well as to all witnesses giving evidence at hearings.

I imagine nurses would welcome a similar scheme, but it’s unlikely to happen because the fees paid to the Nursing and Midwifery Council are considerably less than those paid to the GMC.

That said, the NMC has been making moves to offer more support to witnesses. Staff are now available to look after witnesses on the day of the hearing, and more formal venues are also available to hear cases, which witnesses say they prefer.

The advice from nurses who have been through the process is to keep detailed records if you are worried about a colleague’s performance, noting the date, times and details of your concerns. This will help you to decide if they are valid and ensure you are able to justify them.

In short, if you see something that needs referral, don’t be put off by the horror stories of old but do make sure you are prepared to discuss it. If nursing is to be put under the spotlight it would be better for the profession if nurses are the ones shining the light.

Follow Jenni on Twitter @nursingtimesed


Chat live with the editor and other nurses at every Wednesday at 1pm about this column.



Readers' comments (19)

  • michael stone

    'In short, if you see something that needs referral, don’t be put off by the horror stories of old but do make sure you are prepared to discuss it. If nursing is to be put under the spotlight it would be better for the profession if nurses are the ones shining the light.'

    Well, pretty obviously true on empirical, logical, grounds.

    But currently 'whistle-blowers' are treated punitively if they are working in 'bad' institutions and enviroments, and until that is properly addressed the appeal you are making will probably fall, in some cases, on 'deaf ears'.

    This is VERY OLD GROUND !

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  • No matter how well they are treated by the organisation whistle blowers will always come out of the experience badly. From personal experience, one of my HCA staff reported an RN for inappropriate behaviour for which the RN was suspended pending investigation. This didn't stop the RN from contacting all who would listen, posting on Facebook and making the brave HCA out to be the rogue in the story. She was devastated when she realised that she would have to sit in the same room as the RN for the investigation. Fortunately this didn't happen as the RN resigned but the HCA was left with serious doubt and guilt about what she had done and the RN with her followers (who I'm sure never knew the full story) left behind to make the HCA feel uncomfortable. I don't know what the answer is but some 'gagging order' of the accused might be required, espcially with all the social networking sites now available!

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  • This article has some sound advice. US orientated but relevant and useful for UK nurses too I would say. Worth a read if anyone considering speaking out, also in supporting those who are brave enough to have done so.

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  • Whilst I agree in principle Jenni, I wholly understand those who refuse to. It is far too easy to say 'ignore the horror stories'. At the end of the day, Nurses to face at worst the loss of their profession, at best a culture of bullying stress and intimidation or the loss of their job. Who would choose to take that on? I have before, and came off worse for it despite my resilience.

    Oh, and the fees paid to the NMC are MORE than adequate for the non existent service they (don't) provide.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 25-Oct-2011 2:17 pm

    I am oldish, male, and somewhat anti-social: I don't even have a mobile phone, let alone engage in social media.

    So I had not considered the problem you raise - it is not obvious to me, how that could be addressed, except by the people who were contacted by the RN coming back with 'I don't want to know - this is not any of my business', and I assume the RN's friends, are unlikely to have done that.

    But if that happens a lot, it is a huge problem ! Thank you for pointing out the issue.

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  • I put in a fitness to practice complaint about a fellow student who I felt was behaving incredibly inappropriately and raised it with my personal tutor. Being put before the head of school about why I had raised the issue and why I thought it was appropriate for me to do so was scary enough, coupled with the girl being told who had made the complaint and why and her telling all of her friends making me feel isolated and scared about going to University. It was upsetting and stressful and I lost friends because of it. The girl was thrown off the course after being given specific action plans and a disciplinary warning because of her behaviour, but I felt guilty and scared after making the complaint. This wasn't even in front of the NMC and was in a completely different environment, I cannot imagine how real whistleblowers feel. It's all well and good to say ignore the horror stories, but it's a bit harder to put into practice.

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  • michael stone

    Anonymous | 26-Oct-2011 5:27 pm

    Thank you for posting that - I think this issue definitely needs to be thought about, to see if there is a practicable solution.

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  • Anonymous | 26-Oct-2011 5:27 pm that is a horrible incident, but is far from rare I am afraid to say.

    I have to say I have both been the target of and seen happen to others the negative effects of 'whistleblowing' (I hate that term) because of the culture talked about above. I have to say though that there is the other side of the coin too, where Nurses are wrongfully accused of something and subjected to the same horrific treatment and bullying, because that is in essence what it is; and I have seen this happen too.

    It is just a horrendous situation, and is all the more shocking in a 'caring' profession, where it seems that care does not apply to each other.

    For many Nurses, every single shift does feel like a battlefield, where you are watching your back 24/7 whilst banging your head against a brick wall trying to be a patient advocate.

    Is it any wonder Jenni, that Nurses are put off from speaking out?

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  • michael stone

    mike | 27-Oct-2011 11:59 am

    But if nurses often do that to each other, what is the solution ?

    The CQC did identify various factors which prevent 'whistle-blowing' or 'raising of concerns', and various factors which might contribute to poor care. But I am not aware of any reports, which have raised 'bullying each other' as a serious issue - and it appears to be, a very serious barrier to 'doing the right thing' !

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  • This recent press release from PCAW (Public Concern at Work) highlights the difficulties for people who report their concerns.

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