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Whistleblowers viewed as 'troublemakers' in 70s, says leading nurse


NHS staff that spoke out about care abuses in the 1970s were branded “troublemakers”, an influential nurse has said in the wake of allegations that Sir Jimmy Saville was able to molest young hospital patients over many years.

It was alleged last week that nurses advised young female patients to “pretend to be asleep” when Sir Jimmy was visiting their hospital for volunteer work or charity fundraising.

At least four other women, including a former nurse, also gave TV or radio interviews about experiencing or witnessing abuse by Sir Jimmy in either Stoke Mandeville or Leeds General Infirmary.

Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust and Buckinghamshire Healthcare Trust, which runs Stoke Mandeville, both said they were “shocked” by the allegations and were helping police with investigations. Neither has any record of complaints about Sir Jimmy’s behaviour.

Sir Stephen Moss, the nurse who became chair of Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust after it was hit by scandal, said: “The culture in the NHS was even worse back then [in the 1970s] than it is today. In those days there was no such thing as a whistleblower. People who spoke out were just labelled as troublemakers.

“If the organisational culture isn’t there to support staff they won’t [speak out]. From my experience at Mid Staffs, one of the most tragic things was that professional clinical staff didn’t speak up,” he told Nursing Times.

A range of organisations, from regulators to unions, have signed up to a charter in support of clinicians that raise concerns about care. The document was launched yesterday by NHS Employers.


Readers' comments (6)

  • Worse in the 70's ?

    Today we have "Nurse Managers " who deliberately and cynically support the short staffing of wards and departments.

    These are the people who accuse nurses of "failing to plan and prioritise" their work.

    These are the managers who duck the flack when the CQC discovers yet another instance of poor care. The response of these "managers" is to blame their clinical colleagues and offer to provide additional training!

    Many nurses are worn down by overwork and the unrealistic expectations of their managers !

    Most nurses are relieved to finish a shift without being involved in a disaster.

    Clinical nurses are well aware that drawing attention to the deficits caused by management will not result in improvement.

    If Sir Stephen really expects overworked and unappreciated Nurses to further exaggerate the stress they suffer by "whistle Blowing" he lives on a different planet to me.

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  • Yes they were, they still are - Margaret Hayward was a typical example, look what happened to her.

    I've aired my concerns to various 'managers' recently, it was only when I spoke to the one at the very top, with witnesses, with evidence to back it up, that they took any notice.

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  • Anonymous | 16-Oct-2012 11:02 am

    'it was only when I spoke to the one at the very top'

    It often turns out that it is better to complain to the top - it still does not always work better, but complaining 'to the middle layers' is usually very unsatisfactory.

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  • tinkerbell

    and also in year 2000 when i was stitched up like a kipper for blowing the whistle on patient abuse.

    Will it ever change?

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  • I also blew the whistle on patient abuse..... 2 weeks later I was sacked on a trumped up charge.......same thing with a colleague... both times, union just sat there and said "Oh well.....!"

    Now I'm scared to open my mouth and my colleague has left nursing...... in 2006!
    See no evil.......

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  • I've lost 3 jobs through being moved to the top of the redundancy lists after whistleblowing about the quality of patient care. It was a miserable business each time.

    I'm educated and confident about my practice standards and my commitment to my profession, but who can afford to have this sort of reprisal happen to them?

    I did my SRN in the 1970s. The ability to silence and threaten anyone who steps out of line has not changed. You still have to be prepared to sacrifice your job if you speak out.

    Unions used to be helpful & supportive, but now they're wary of tribunals because they want to protect themselves from legal costs after much punitive trade union legislation was enacted. It's actually less safe for nurses to blow the whistle on bad care or conduct these days.

    My experience has helped me understand colleagues too frightened to speak out. Unless we can go in confidence to an external body who WILL investigate properly, this'll never change.

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