We’ve seen recently how whistleblowers can have tremendous power, from Winterbourne View care home to News International.
We live in a society where people are prepared to speak out when wrongs occur and those in authority act on them. Or do we?
The Commons health committee recommended last week that nurses and other health workers should face investigation if they do not report poor care. But this feels a little like bullying to those who fear for their jobs if they do raise concerns.
Winterbourne View whistleblower Terry Bryan called the Care Quality Commission before he gave up and went to BBC’s Panorama programme. Margaret Haywood was struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council for secret filming for Panorama which breached patient confidentiality. This appalled many nurses who felt the means justified the ends. Graham Pink lost his job after raising concerns over poor care of the elderly in 1991.
According to a senior nurse I spoke to who has raised concerns herself, such cases are not unique. Blowing the whistle can be an uncomfortable and demoralising experience. There is much to deter nurses and others from making a noise about poor care.
The health committee is right to say the whistleblowing system needs reform to safeguard patients - but what about safeguarding those brave enough to put their heads above the parapet? Is a punitive approach really what’s needed?
Nurses who raise concerns complain they are terrorised by managers and persecuted by colleagues. This latest suggestion feels like bullying from the other side, so you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Supportive workplaces, training for managers and protection for staff who speak up are needed.
A new website - www.nhsconcern.org.uk - allows nurses and others to raise concerns anonymously. This will help, but we need assurances that concerns will be acted on. After all, there is little point in speaking out unless someone will listen.