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'The culture of fear is what stops students and staff from speaking out'

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How easy is it for student nurses to speak up if they witness dangerous practice on placement?


The RCN hosted an event on Friday 3 October 2014 for student nurses, encouraging them to share their experiences of raising concerns and their views on the reporting culture in health services.

The event was part of Sir Robert Francis’ Freedom to speak up review, which he was asked to carry out following his report into events at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. The results of this should be due out at the end of November 2014 and I will be avidly interested when these are released.


Whistleblowing is a richly debated topic. From a university standpoint, it’s simple enough to tell first year student nurses to go to placement and tell their mentors and placement team if they witness bad practice; only for the student to then be told that this is “the way ‘things are done”.

Established cultures in work areas can make it difficult for healthcare professionals to address poor care and difficulties in staffing and resourcing add to this. Office politics are complex and nuanced.

I have heard of incidences where a student has whistleblowed and can’t get work when qualified within that area. I am fearful of the repercussions of even writing that last statement because of the impact it could have for me. There is the risk of being viewed as a troublemaker and worries about failing the placement or not getting paperwork signed off.

What do these statements have in common?

Fear. The culture of fear is what stops students and staff from speaking out.

Potential employers

In my first year, it took a while to establish my role as a student. It felt hard to flag up issues, especially when I wasn’t feeling particularly confident in my own abilities. My worries are underpinned by knowing that these placements are seen as future potential employers, particularly in the mental health trust I am in and where networking with others is incredibly important. 

I don’t currently believe students have any protection with regard to whistleblowing.

On a recent placement, I witnessed three different methods for giving a depot injection, a common way of giving long term acting antipsychotic medication. I found a non-confrontational way of challenging this by checking my trust/organisational policy regarding giving the injection and then briought it up in conversation with other staff members.

This brings the issue subtly to the attention of other members of staff without naming and shaming.

It didn’t need necessarily whistleblowing but just a gentle nudge to challenge a current practice.

I appreciate however, this can’t always be the best way and if the situation was more serious, I would have no hesitation to whistleblow because I have very strong morals and values.

Legal protection

However, students are currently not protected legally and I really hope this is something that changes soon.

This lack of protection leaves me feeling very helpless at times.

Legal protection and ongoing support is critical for students. I worry sometimes students quit their course because of the lack of both.

Nurses need to not feel threatened in terms of job security, relations with colleagues and future employability. It is not just an issue for student nurses but for the wider nursing profession too.

The Nursing Times ‘Speak out Safely’ (SOS) campaign aims for better protection of whistle blowers by asking all trusts and organisations to pledge to take action on all genuine concerns raised by staff and students. I strongly feel that change needs to happen from the inside, right from when a student starts their nursing course, to make any impact on the long term future of nursing.

I feel proud of student nurses who speak of their whistleblowing experiences on Student Nursing Times and hope they will continue to do so in conjunction with the SOS campaign.

Whistleblowing is not a battle, but a war we must continue to fight.


Becky Kidman is Student Nursing Times’ mental health branch editor


What do you think?

Join Becky and the student nurse twitter community on Tuesday 28 October to share your thoughts on whistleblowing. Becky will be hosting two chats, one at 12:30 and one at 17:00. Everyone is welcome to come along and share their views, simple follow #SNTtwitchat and use this hashtag in all your tweets.


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