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The Jeremy Clarkson 'fracas' highlights whistleblowing fears

  • Comments (5)

I don’t watch Top Gear, and perhaps my dented and increasingly rusty Ford KA explains why. But I am interested in the Jeremy Clarkson affair because until now he has been one of the “untouchables”.

It is interesting to note that it took several days for the incident to be brought to the attention of BBC managers – and it was Clarkson himself that raised the issue.

Why did it take so long? And why did no one else report it? Do employees of the BBC fear the repercussions of raising concerns against the rich and famous?

“Do employees of the BBC fear the repercussions of raising concerns against the rich and famous? “

Who can blame them when the prime minister is happy to make light of the incident on national TV while voicing concerns that his children will be denied their Sunday night entertainment, and over 600,000 people signing a petition to have Mr Clarkson reinstated.  

Over the years I have met “untouchables” in the NHS who were never challenged about their behaviour.

Mr Clarkson’s suspension reminded me of a surgeon back in the early 1980s, who was brilliant at the technical aspects of his job but incapable of conducting a ward round without a temper tantrum. He was known to hit nurses on the head with clip boards if fluid balance charts were not up to date. His ward rounds were miserable and everyone was frightened of him, but his behaviour was excused as the actions of a perfectionist, and he went unchallenged.

What interests me about Jeremy Clarkson is not the future of Top Gear, or even his relationship with the prime minister. I am interested in why the incident was not reported earlier.

“It takes a lot of courage to blow the whistle”

It takes a lot of courage to blow the whistle, particularly when you are challenging people in power. There are numerous blogs on our website that are testament to the implications for staff.

Jennie Fecitt, lead nurse at Patients First, wrote Seven years ago, as a senior nurse at Manchester Walk-in Centres, I blew the whistle on patient safety issues. I was bullied, victimised and received detrimental treatment from colleagues; my health and family suffered terribly. My NHS employer could and should have done more to protect me as a genuine whistleblower”.

Over two years ago we hoped the Francis report would bring about a change in culture in the NHS, but only yesterday I took a call from a nurse who was in despair about poor care in her workplace. She was too frightened to give her name or place of work, and was even concerned that I might track her call. How terrible that the only person she felt she could approach was a section editor of a magazine.

This is clearly not an isolated case. This year the results of the NHS staff survey revealed that nearly one third of NHS employees still do not feel secure raising concerns about unsafe clinical practice.

There is hope for the future. Sir Robert Francis QC’s new report “Freedom to Speak Out” offers 20 recommendations to support staff to raise concerns, and the Kirkup review presents clear challenges for maternity services.

“Perhaps it is time for a petition supporting those brave individuals who stand up and speak out when something feels wrong”

If the allegations against Jeremy Clarkson are proven he has to lose his job. This will send out an important message to people who think bullying from a position of power is acceptable and should have no consequences.

Perhaps it is time for a petition supporting those brave individuals who stand up and speak out when something feels wrong, whether that is the NHS, the BBC or any other organisation. Bullying cannot be an inevitable part of working life.  


Find out about Nursing Times’ Speak Out Safely campaign


  • Comments (5)

Readers' comments (5)

  • Hi Nursing Times I would like to highlight a concern about employment practices in the NHS which I feel has been overlooked. There has been recent press coverage about the high levels of Agency staff in the NhS with it being identified there should be more fully employed staff. What seems to have been missed is the fact that Agency staff are very vulnerable and not covered by employment law to the extent of fully employed staff.
    I feel that unscrupulous NHS trusts and managers are trying to turn the clock back 100 years by hiring staff not covered by modern employment laws. I am an Agency Mental Health nurse and was subjected to degrading and inappropriate treatment from a manager at the Manchester Mental Health and Social care Trust. I had tried to leave my post and given 7 days notice as my contract allowed. The manager then contrived to summarily dismiss me which has harmed my future employment prospects. He would not have been able to do this if I was a fully employed staff member. I made a official complaint and the manager whom investigated was dismissive of me and upheld the previous managers behaviour, conveniently ignoring the issue I complained about and conducting a investigation which suited her purposes. I was represented by the RCN and the rep was hostile to me, treating the meeting as a job interview for he joining the H.R. Dept of the trust. My agency would not make any waves as keeping a lucrative contract rather than protecting their staff is their priority.
    I use this illustration to highlight the vulnerability of Agency staff in the NHS and the potential for them to be subjected to appalling treatment with impunity by the NHS. I feel this has been completely overlooked by the media, unions and organisations such as yours.
    Benefits for the NHS include hiring and firing as they please, no sick pay, no pension etc, complete impunity of unethical treatment of staff.
    Regards Paul R

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  • Anonymous

    Hello Paul
    sorry to hear about your troubles, I had some bullying sometime ago by a line manager who wanted to treat the pace of work as it was her own business to do as she wanted. She did not like me as I just wanted the right thing to be done.The union was no help to me as the rep was also a manager who worked next to my line manager's boss who was backing my line manager, because if the protective wall goes up around my line manager then this manager don't get to answer questions. It was a case of protecting themselves by putting up walls.
    I am not in the union any more, if there is another case I will be getting my own lawyer.
    My friend who work in another job outside of the NHS also got into hot water for standing up to bullying.
    I feel there is a wave of the strong doing every thing possible to stay in position and the workers at the bottom end have no support.
    The unions are all the people have, but it has been invaded by people who do not have the fire for justice.

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  • Anonymous

    'I feel there is a wave of the strong doing every thing possible to stay in position and the workers at the bottom end have no support.'

    strong in what sense? those who bully are not strong. that is the whole point. they are weak and insecure individuals who use bullying tactics which may be driven subconsciously to cover up their lack of self esteem and a lack of competence in using more effective coping mechanisms which fortunately most well functioning individuals have developed.

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  • Good points raised in your article Eileen.

    So many ' untouchables ' now takes away from the poor and vulnerable in society - almost re defining ' vulnerable ' as people who are being bullied, discriminated against even abused by those who are rich and powerful and abuse their status - often when working within public authorities to cover up what they are doing.

    Clarkson maybe had professional advice - better to raise it in the way you wish under your own terms, rather than allow the press or 'victim' raise a complaint in the manner of his choosing ?

    Whistleblowing simply does not work effectively, as the offender is often the more powerful one , and often employed in a senior position within an organisation that will back the offender all the way to protect the company reputation.

    The leader of our country, the prime minister , showed his true colours when interviewed on TV,
    and regretably when we see him performing in Parliament, in my opinion we regularly see him and certain others acting in a bullying and intimidating, controlling even abusive and dismissive manner towards other MPs - which other senior officials in public bodies - and budding middle management - then think if the PM can get away with it - so will we!

    I firmly believe the ' untouchables ' in the NHS , and indeed Police and Councils etc are responsible for a great deal of misery, illness and deaths due to the way they treat people - and of course every public authority official has more ' protected characteristics ' than those being abused - the weak, elderly , disabled and ' at risk adults ' who have no power to stop the abuse they suffer, often year after year or all of their lives.

    It is interesting to see that our PMs loyalties are to his ' friend' as they occasionally drink in the same pub and are friends I believe.

    It is as if Cameron is maybe complicit when approving a do what you like, bully and assault somebody, I will back you regardless approach - that so many of us find wholly unacceptable in todays society - and a form of SECONDARY ABUSE ?

    Blowing the whistle , blows the whistle to end your own career in reality !

    I am sure Jennie Fecitt has suffered for the past seven years following her experience you wrote about - but of more concern is does the emotional and psychological abuse remain with her to this day, and maybe the rest of her life, if proper 'Restorative Justice ' and adequate meaningful public apologies that are wholly acceptable to her have not been made and accepted by her.

    All these reports - including Francis which was very good - but those of us including myself suffering long term abuse and neglect are still not listened to, and many public authorities - even charities funded by local government - cover up the truth and the damage I have been caused.

    Our national press , and indeed NT has a good understanding of these matters - but sadly NOTHING has changed for the better - except the money thrown at covering up the truth !

    Sorry, but regardless of what happens to Clarkson - at the end of his contract now remember - NOTHING will change , he will leave quietly ' by mutual agreement ' and the guy who was maybe assaulted with get a few thousand ' hush money ' to protect the BBC image ?

    I have reported my own abuse under ' No Secrets ' and Adult Safeguarding procedures, but where it involves VERY senior staff in a number of organisations - they wont even investigate it , and even documents I gave them showing the abuse I was suffering, were sent back in an envelope - no letter, no action taken.

    Mr Cameron - this is the state of your country when it comes to whistleblowing and stopping abuse !

    Look at the other posts on this subject - probably 100s more too scared to say a word in case they are traced !

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  • michael stone

    It was weird to hear Cameron apparently defending Clarkson, who it appears had actually thumped someone !

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