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Whistleblowers need support to deal with after effects


Greater support is needed to tackle the serious emotional consequences of whistleblowing, according to researchers.

Whistleblowing incidents can have a serious, long-term impact on a nurse’s emotional wellbeing, according to an Australian study in the Journal of Clinical Nursing.

Researchers carried out in-depth interviews with 14 nurses who had experience of being a whistleblower or had been a bystander in a whistleblowing incident.

Alcohol problems, nightmares, paranoid behaviour at work and overwhelming distress were some of the problems reported by those who took part in the study.

Lead author Kath Peters, from the school of nursing and midwifery at the University of Western Sydney, said:  “We already knew from previous research that whistleblowing had a negative impact on all aspects of an individual’s life, but this study highlights how intense and long-lasting the emotional problems can be.

“By its very nature it may lead organisations to adopt a defensive stance to protect their own interests and cast those who blow the whistle as troublemakers. This can generate a hostile work environment and even lead to victimisation, ostracism, exclusionary behaviour, hostility and bullying,” she said.

Despite their findings, the authors stressed the important role that whistleblowing has played in improvements in healthcare safety and quality, and called on colleagues and managers to provide whistleblowers with more support.

Study co-author Debra Jackson, from the faculty of nursing at Sydney’s University of Technology, said: “Managers have a significant responsibility to provide ongoing care and support for both whistleblowing employees and those affected by whistleblowing events. Nursing colleagues also need to be vigilant and direct people affected to appropriate resources.”

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Readers' comments (10)

  • michael stone

    Doesn't surprise me, at all.

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  • And the NMC wonder why nurses dont whistleblow? Its not rocket science?

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  • michael stone

    Ellie palfrey | 18-Oct-2011 1:55 pm

    I should probably not be saying this - as someone with a doctorate in chemistry, it isn't 'scientific' - but although I agree with 'evidence-based' for something such as the efficacy of a drug, it strikes me that the problems with things like whistle-blowing should be INTUITIVELY OBVIOUS, without research such as the above.

    As you say, it isn't rocket science !

    There seem to be loads of studies, which basically confirm the obvious - some things are so obvious, they should be assumed true until disproved !

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  • Little One

    Judging by the dreadful stories you hear in the news about Whistleblowers losing their jobs and being victimised if they do manage to hang onto them, does it really come as a shock that people do not report problems as much as they'd like?

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  • Hear, hear Mike Stone! Is anyone SURPRISED at the results of this study? It should have been glaringly obvious that the results of whistleblowing are victimisation, ostracism, exclusionary behaviour, hostility and bullying leading to substance abuse, nightmares, insomnia, paranoia etc. Defensive behaviour by organisations and employers almost always result in serious psychological damage to whistleblowers.
    If nurses, or any other workers are to be encouraged to behave ethically and report abuse, they must be guaranteed complete protection and confidentiality.

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  • The NMC published this last year:, and NHS Trust's have Whistleblowing Policies, so why are staff allowed to be in a position to be victimised for raising concerns. By raising concerns they are adhering to the NMC's Code of Conduct. The NMC and NHS Trust's need to put their 'money where their mouth is', so to speak

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  • michael stone

    Jacqueline Hickman | 18-Oct-2011 6:20 pm

    I only partially agree about complete confidentiality. I fully agree that the problems should be pretty obvious.

    I think that if the complaint is about something such as unsafe staffing levels, dubious protocols, or the competence of someone you are working under, it needs to be progressed by someone 'untouchable and neutral', to preclude any victimisation of whoever raised the issue.

    But if someone is complaining about an equal-ranking colleague, I think anonymity is quite dangerous in that situation: how do you stop 'grudge complaints' if your accuser doesn't 'front up' ?

    But the current system, definitely does not work very well - I entirely agree about that. And lots of staff clearly do not raise concerns, because of the history of negative outcomes for staff who have raised concerns in the past.

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  • I whistle blew and lost my job ( but reasons for alleged changes- but I was the only person targeted.) Have seen others whistle blow on staff using drugs'/alchol/ bad practice, and when these persons return to work - guess what they get better jobs more perks and the whistle blowers and other staff have to stand by and watch wondering why they bothered.

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  • I am not sure this is completely related to this article but wish to highlight what a difficult path Whistle Blowers tread - I am sure that some PCT's are excellent at looking after Whistle Blowers but this statement form PCAW (Public Concern at Work) 25th October 2011 is very worrying.

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  • If I had the courage I would report my experience to the BBC`s Panorama ! No one really cares !

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