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Whistleblowers seek better legal protection


A group of whistleblowers including nurses, doctors and managers plans to challenge the government over the level of protection provided to staff who raise concerns.

The Patients First group is spearheaded by Dr Kim Holt, the paediatrician who raised concerns about the clinic where Baby P was seen before he died.

As part of its campaign, the group has instructed lawyers to explore the possibility of launching a judicial review of policies and guidance designed to protect whistleblowers.

Ministers announced plans last month to incorporate a requirement for employers to protect staff who whistleblow into the NHS constitution. The changes are due to come into effect next year. But the group claims the move will be ineffective, because the constitution does not currently provide legal rights.

Practice nurse Loo Blackburn told Nursing Times she supported the Patients First campaign and wanted nurses “not to consider it brave to raise concerns, but an obligatory role without any fear of victimisation”.

She raised concerns about a GP in Oxford, after finding hundreds of unread blood test results and trays of unactioned referral letters when she began working at his practice. She is in the middle of a constructive dismissal dispute with NHS Oxfordshire relating to the case.

As reported last week, the charity Public Concern at Work also wants the government to provide greater protection to whistleblowers from harassment by colleagues.


Readers' comments (11)

  • michael stone

    GOOD !

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  • The treatment of whistleblowers is an elephant in the room at every inquiry into poor practice and abuse.

    I have represented (as a trade union official and on a pro bono basis) several whistleblowers in health and social care and the pattern is remarkably similar.

    Member of staff raises concerns which are ignored. Member of staff then uses whistleblowing procedure. Whether or not whistleblowing claims are true or are upheld, whistleblower then becomes the "problem". He or she are undermined, marghinalised, bullied anbd their work is subjected to minute scrutiny. The slightest mistake (and sometimes none at all) are jumped upon and the whistlblower is suspended.

    Or alternatively the whistleblower is "reorganised" out of their job. No one steps in to stop this victimisation which is often compiunded by suggestions that the whistleblowing is "difficult". Whistleblower becomes ill or just leaves bcause the pressure is relentless.

    It is quite astonishing that some staff still have the courage and conscience to raise concerns and equallt astonishing that after Bristol, M<aidstone, Mid Staffs etc, no Government has seen fit (yet) to improve PIDA, and prevent whistleblowers being victimised by making it an offence to victimise.

    The whistleblower is then paid off with a compromise agreement that has a gagging clause so we dont even know the scale of the problem.

    It is unusual for a whistlblower to keep their job, never mind be promoted for doing what others should have done.

    Public Concern at Work do an excellent job trying to find the best ways to raise concerns and SOME trade unions and professional bodies give good support.

    The likes of Kim Holt are to be treasured. Good luck to this new venture - it needs all the support it can get

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  • michael stone

    roger kline | 4-Nov-2011 11:36 am

    You seem to have very eloquently described the situation.

    I can't see how you deal with allegations about the competence of individual staff, and the 'intra-staff bullying' which seems to then result - you do need to be able to face your accuser(s), there.

    But for 'this ward is dangerous because it is under-staffed', etc, an obvious solution is to separate the raising of the issue, from the person who raised it, by allowing the issue to be 'pushed/investigated' by people who do not work for the managers being criticised (ie people who cannot be sacked).

    I have seen that point - anonymous reporting, then 'independent parties' running with the concern - suggested somewhere else recently: not sure, it may have been an MP Select Committee.

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  • Michael

    I agree. I worked for BALPA, the pilots union, for a while and the anonymous, no blame culture for pilots is very effective. Mind you that depended on the regulator being rather more effective thatn the CQC

    In my view there also need to be clear sanctions for individuals who have demonstrably victimised whistleblowers. That would give confidence to whistleblowers and might enable most organisations to work towards being a "learning organisation" where the raising of concerns and complaints and the proper reporting of incidents were all welcomed as a way of improving care. We might even have staff raising concerns collectively!

    Instead we have a "shoot the messenger" culture.

    My sense is that there is finally the beginning of a head of steam around this issue.

    When people represent individuals we do our best and we sometimes win, but often damage is done to the individual and the organisation closes ranks. It is rarely a good career move.

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  • I am hopefully banging on the same drum with this article:- thanks

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  • michael stone

    roger kline | 4-Nov-2011 1:39 pm

    'In my view there also need to be clear sanctions for individuals who have demonstrably victimised whistleblowers.'

    I am entirely with you there.

    But there does need to be less 'defensiveness', because many patients/relatives will raise issues because they want the service to learn from their bad experience. Somehow, getting more co-operation and openness, and less defensiveness and long-winded bureaucracy, into complaints/concerns handling, would be a huge help. But doing that seems to require more 'trust' than most people or organisations are willing to show. It seems to be particularly difficult to get staff to openly discuss problems, when they have a 'boss' who might subsequently criticise them for being open and rapid, in talking about a complaint.

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  • The head of steam Roger mentioned would be helped by the media picking up on these issues especially the cost to tax payers as trusts silence whistleblowers and then employ solicitors to get it closed down at employment tribunal.
    Researcher Dave Raddings at the Tonight ITV programme would be very interested to hear from people - Tel: 0161 952 1028 | Mob: 07770 520047 |
    In the meantime, ‘damned if you do whistleblow and damned if you don’t’ as the editor Jenni Middleton observed recently. And as Roger observed, lives and careers are wrecked, an horrendous state of affairs that the Department of Health wishes to know nothing about. Shame on them.
    Julie Fagan, founder member CAUSE (Campaign Against Unnecessary Suspensions and Exclusions UK)

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  • michael stone

    Julie Fagan | 4-Nov-2011 6:00 pm

    Julie, I wrote to a chap at the DH in connection with the Statutory Complaints Regs and the DH guidance on complaints/concerns handling. His reply was 100% sane.

    The guidance on how to address issues which are raised by the public, is good: but my PCT does not properly follow it. The trouble, is the PCT tries to shoe-horn all concerns, into a standardised type of behaviour, and it also assumes it knows better than whoever contacts it.

    I don't think, this is really a DH problem - I see it as much more a problem of bad managers, behaving badly. Remember that the DH sets objectives, and overall policy - it does not actually do the operational management of the NHS.

    It is the usual problem, of incompetent or 'bad' people within the system.

    But it does seem to be an age-old problem - and this 'bullying the whistle-blower by similarly ranking colleagues who are friends of the 'wrong-doer'' is presumably much worse, now that social media exist (without being sexist, my understanding is that teenage schoolgirls have adopted social media as their number 1 choice for bullying, while the boys tend to stick with the traditional, and less subtle, approach of thumping each other).

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  • tinkerbell

    Bravo to these good people and God speed the changes that need to be made. It is the management culture that needs changing so that they deal with staff raising concerns in a professional, honest & supportive manner and deal with the situation rather than trying to sweep everything under the carpet and hiding it away as though it never happened. The person who raised the concerns is then left unsupported and 'targeted' as i was until i eventually left close to having a nervous breakdown because thereafter you are branded as a 'troublemaker' and the perpetrators are moved sideways or promoted. It is a kangaroo court and a total injustice so anything that can improve the lot of a 'whistleblower' (hate that expression) to safeguard them for doing the right thing will hopefully change once and for all this injustice.

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  • michael stone

    tinkerbell | 12-Nov-2011 10:59 am

    I am sorry you had your bad experience - but as you say, it needs a culture change.

    It is very annoying, as 'thinking people' do pretty-much understand the problems, but 'the system' seems incapable of dealing with them.

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