‘In my experience people can blow whistles until they are blue in the face – not a lot will be done unless you have someone willing to sacrifice their position for the sake of the patient.’ says Linda Jane McLean
To the many people who think of care giving as a positive contribution to society, the BBC Panorama programme will have come as a severe shock.
For me, the programme awakened memories: the stories I could tell you, the utter distress I have witnessed. Some of this was caused by the staff being too unaware to realise that they were even causing distress.
I remember when elderly patients were forced to sit beneath a radio blaring Radio One all day, because that is what the staff enjoyed when they were working. The very real discomfort of a generation not brought up with blaring radios was of no consequence. The patients would obey their rules. The very real opposition I came up against at the suggestion of a change of programme or volume was quite revealing.
“From a hidden position, I watched the member of staff eat the patient’s meal – all of it.”
I believe it showed to me the mind-set of people who were at work to earn money. After much turmoil and confrontation, I managed to alter the programme and volume for my shifts – so that it was changed to Radio 3 – or something that there was a possibility the patients could enjoy. But the taunting I endured; the faces, the scowls, the comments; were very difficult to bear. This experience allowed me to see the power that sheer weight of numbers of auxiliary staff wielded, although I was the Nurse in Charge. The real acrimonious retaliation they possessed was a force to be reckoned with.
There was one auxiliary who always wanted to feed the same patient. Eventually, puzzled as to her motives, I decided to pay her extra attention, as the patient was in a setting not easily observed. From a hidden position, I watched the member of staff eat the patient’s meal – all of it. The patient was unable to complain because she was unable to speak, following a stroke. I spoke to the Auxiliary in question, hoping to let her see the error of her ways: that this was a bad example to set; that it was uncaring; that her first duty was to the patient.
She completely took my breath away when she informed me that her first duty was to herself. Moreover, she went on to announce gleefully, I could do nothing about it because I had no witness.
That was as much as I was willing to take. The next time I caught her, I wrote down a statement which I sent to my nurse manager – explaining the situation. The auxiliary was spoken to – and it was discovered that she was a drug user – and so had no money for food. This is the level of caregiver that we employ – and this was NHS.
Thinking aloud at the end of the Panorama programme, I asked my husband: “What other profession can you think of, where, if you try to drive up standards, you lose your job?” He answered: “Ah. But they have a whistleblower’s hotline now.” That will be the problem sorted, then.
“In my experience people can blow whistles until they are blue in the face – not a lot will be done about it unless you have someone willing to sacrifice their position for the sake of the patient. “
In my experience people can blow whistles until they are blue in the face – not a lot will be done about it unless you have someone willing to sacrifice their position for the sake of the patient. That is not always an easy call. There is not a lot of work about, or at least not so much that you can afford to give up a well-paid job on a principle. Personal finances and circumstances may overrule your moral standards.
Most people, I have found, will make any problem like this known. They will attempt to educate auxiliaries – they will take it to management. It is at this stage that the system struggles: management, in my experience, usually fails to listen, understand or act. There is not normally the courage to continue such a battle unsupported.
Then the trained nurse has to decide – to lower their own standards and get paid – or to attempt to improve the lot of the patients, and lose their employment.
Linda Jane McLean is studying for a post graduate MSc in Clinical Leadership and works as a coordinator for the Charity, Arac.