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Francis: Student nurses 'discouraged' to speak out on placements


Student and trainee NHS workers have told stories to an independent whistleblowing inquiry with “alarming consistency” about suffering after speaking up about concerns during placements.

The Freedom to Speak Up Review, published today, looks at how NHS staff are treated when they raise concerns.

It found there were “far too many” stories of students being bullied and of their assessments “suddenly becoming negative” after speaking out.

“These were mainly young people at the start of their careers who genuinely believed they should raise issues for the benefit of patients. Of none of them could it be said that they had axes to grind,” said the review chair Sir Robert Francis QC in his introduction to the report.

“We heard all too frequently of jobs being lost, but also of serious psychological damage, even to the extent of suicidal depression”

Robert Francis

Some respondents to the review also criticised universities for taking the side of mentors rather than students – particularly nurses – when they lodged a concern, claiming that higher education providers had biased processes and that they were not best equipped to consider fitness to practise cases.

One student nurse told the review how they had contacted the trust they were working at about a concern they had but were told because they were not an employee of the  trust, the complaint could not be dealt with.

While the student attempted to change placements they were put on leave, but this resulted in them missing a part of their course and they were then marked as having failed that section.



Meanwhile, the “truly shocking” effects of bad treatment of qualified whistleblowers has also been exposed within the report.

Sir Robert said: “We heard all too frequently of jobs being lost, but also of serious psychological damage, even to the extent of suicidal depression.

“In some, sad, cases it is clear that the toll of continual battles has been to consume lives and cause dedicated people to behave out of character,” he said.

“Staff who have been badly treated can become isolated, and disadvantaged in their ability to obtain appropriate alternative employment,” he added. “In short, lives can be ruined by poor handling of staff who have raised concerns.”

One nurse spoke of how she was shouted at by two managers after raising concerns about patient safety during a team meeting and was thereafter criticised “at every opportunity”.

She told the review she believed none of her concerns were looked into.

Meanwhile, a practice nurse described how she was bullied after speaking out, resulting in her becoming unwell and taking time off work to recover. She is now out of employment and believes she has been “blacklisted”, noted the report.

From the review’s online survey of 15,000 trust staff, just over a third had raised a concern about suspected wrongdoing.

Of those, around 20% reported being ignored by management and 17%being victimised by management. Just 8% were praised.

Co-workers ignored or victimised these whistle-blowers in around 8% of cases, but praised them in 15% of cases.

The review, which puts forward a series of recommended actions based on 20 principles to help create an open reporting culture within the NHS, has called for training for all NHS staff and students about how to raise and handle complaints.

An employment support programme to help those that speak up get back into work has also been recommended.


Readers' comments (8)

  • Thank you for this. I have had a placement for HELL and have been unsupported and depressed. The whole degree is breaking me and has been an eye opener of what the NHS is really all about

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  • the NHS is losing nurses and a future crisis predicted. It is a privilege to have all these enthusiastic young people still willing to train and form the future nursing professional workforce. they must be treated with respect, listened too and highly valued. all students have the right to discuss any issues they choose and have the right to good, pleasant and supportive placements in a proper learning environment. for anything short of this those responsible should be severely punished. different standards and ways of treating different groups of individuals such as students, staff and patients is totally unacceptable and must not be tolerated.

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  • As a registered nurse having endured bullying as a student and as a nurse to the point of depression and blackisting, I ensure that any student I mentor is valued and not taken advantage of as in so many placements I have seen.
    I feel that this is an issue that shold be take up by the NMC considering the code expects qualified nurses to teach and pass on their knowledge to student. I also believe that this sort of treatment is rife throughout the NHS by nursing staff and management as I have seen and endured personally and that many nurses leave their chosen profession due to this and the lack of support in dealing with this.
    What are we going to do about it?????

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  • I agree that the universities are not in a position to handle bullying as all to often I have seen them ignore concerns from students AND from qualified nurses.

    Perhaps a senior mentor or the like, independent of the NHS, might be of use for students/nurses. This might increase professionalism ans reduce involvement of unions and enable issues to be dealt with locally.

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  • This is not news!

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  • I was a 3rd student nurse and on my second to last placement when I started to have serious problems with my mentor, she would shout my name from across the ward and tell other nurses i was terrible and she didn't know why I wanted to be a nurse, she turned other nurses against me and then overloaded me with tasks just so she could say I didn't finish tasks. She would then shout at me to do something else halfway through the first task. She bullied me so much I went into a serious depression. I spoke to the ward manager and she told me not to complain to the university because it would have serious consequences for me so I listened to her. I would then start crying because she had said another horrible comment and a nurse who was actually nice would talk to me but would never actually stand up for me as she was afraid for her job if she did. There was many incidents but the main one was when there was an incident on the ward and a patient needed urgent care and i was asked to call a perry 22 I blanked and asked my mentor what a perry 22 was and she shouted at me to ask someone else. I then asked the doctor who told me and then I proceed to make the call. I then helped the doctor preform an ecg, whilst my mentor was no where to be seen after all of this and me being told by the doctor that I had done a great job, i was told by the university i was being suspended as i had many cause for concerns. To cut a very long story short after many suspensions, restarts, many lies from my mentor who i believed "blacklisted me, on my next final placement i was put up for fitness to practice, they called me a liar and a danger to other patients as well as rude to staff. They kicked me off the course 2 weeks before I was meant to qualify. At the end of all of this I wish i never had the dream of being a nurse or to make a difference. My mum got really sick at the time I decided to go into nursing and it was because of the nurse who looked after her that I decided I wanted to help as many people as I could and being a student nurse i was doing that helping people my mentor would ignore or shout at or on my final placement threaten, I managed to help those people and actually sort out situation by talking to people i will cherish the 2 1/2 years where i was helping people and I enjoyed nursing, but the bullying would not stop and the worst it got the more i lost myself, the person i was before all of this. So to sum up the nhs needs to change otherwise what will we be left with, nurses who have lost their ability to feel what it's like to actually love the job they're doing. And student nurses dredging going in to placement as they know it's going to be a bad day, everyday.

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  • It is heartbreaking to read of those would be nurses who have been struck down in training on placements that sound awful. I'm a 2nd year student and have experienced these awful things, to such an extent I had an anxiety attack in the meds. clinic after being told I was useless and being growled at like the mentor was an animal hunting me.

    Where my experience differs is I did my background research as to the mentor's responsibility to me, the university responsibility to me, and then I reported my concerns to the university and requested support whilst highlighting their responsibility to me. I did not make threats, I did not get over emotional (although I was crying inside). I was scared, it made me ill and it has been horrific. However, I was supported wonderfully, and I now have a new mentor who is brilliant. The other mentor was disciplined.

    To those going through this, please stick by your values, be brave, do your homework, get things in righting, keep a reflective diary, get witness statements (this is a difficult one). You have rights, stand up for them.

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  • I am a final sign off student in placement and I am bullied by the charge nurse who is my mentor everyday.
    He will question me in a loud ridiculing way in front of staff and other staff have commented on the way he treats me. I have asked for a change of placement and memtor and reported it as bullying with the university. So will be interesting to see what they say

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