The NHS is an institution that the British public is very proud of and should be lived up to. Everyone involved from doctors to nurses and other professionals within health care perform a tremendous service looking after and caring for those who are injured or ill. As of this year, in order to improve confidences within NHS, there are new policies and procedures guidelines that support whistleblowers that each National Health Service had to review.
Deliberations were concluded in May of 2016 and the final guidelines were released this year. The new policies were introduced after an intense period of discussions and after reviewing the reluctance of NHS staff to step forward with their concerns regarding the safety of patients and inadequate funding.
Many of the leading healthcare workers have long believed that speaking up had many consequences including:
They worked within a small team and feared the backlash they would get from their colleagues. They were also afraid of losing their jobs if they raised any concerns to their employer. Workers in ancillary and non-clinical positions felt they had fewer options because they did not have access to a prominent group of leaders or a union.
The National Health Service Director for Patient Experience strongly believes that in order to have the safest health system takes listening to their staff and taking action where needed. Should a staff member discover something that is putting patients at risk, they should feel safe in expressing these concerns without repercussions.
The new guidelines have been put in place to create good practices, provide primary care staffers more options in order to share their concerns, and allows employers to handle these concerns correctly. In order to have a safe NHS, there must be open and honest communication in order to routinely learn from their past mistakes. They should take these mistakes and learn how to improve their patients’ safety.
Whistleblowing can help point out bad practices going on within an organisation. That said, these claims must be honest because the final outcome could lead to criminal actions against an organisation while unveiling cover-ups that are dangerous and not in the best interests of patients.
In 2014, an independent review board, chaired by Sir Robert Francis, revealed that whistleblowers within NHS were intimidated, bullied, ignored, and, in many cases, fired. During an interview, Sir Francis stated that approximately 30% of those raising concerns felt unsafe after speaking up.
He went on to point out that 18% of staff employees did not trust the system and therefore would not speak up. Another 15% stated they were afraid of being victimised if they were to say anything at all. This climate of fear was created by a number of people losing their jobs because they chose to speak up. These people have lost their jobs, their livelihood, and have found it very difficult to find new employment. Sadly, some cases have felt suicidal tendencies or became seriously ill in the aftermath. Before releasing his report, Sir Francis said nurses, in particular, had raised many concerns regarding intimidation and bullying within NHS Trusts.
A survey conducted in 2013 of 8,262 nurses revealed that 24% had been warned against making any public statements regarding their concerns. Approximately 45% of the participants said their employers took no actions regarding their concerns and 44% were very concerned about suffering from repercussions or being fired. Other threats made them think twice about whistleblowing about dangerous or negligent practices they had witnessed.
Based on the recommendations of Sir Francis’s report, the foundation for establishing a new NHS guideline regarding whistleblowing was born. The new policies offer steps to protect the safety of NHS employees who speak up.
Each NHS Trust should appoint a Freedom To Speak Up Guardian. This individual should not be within the chain of command management group. He or she will provide support to staff members who have genuine concerns. There should be further steps taken to prevent inappropriate behaviour including harassment, discrimination, or bullying toward staff members who speak up.
All NHS primary care providers were required to review and update their policies and procedures by March of 2017. The principles of the agreed upon guidelines were then incorporated.
Last year in 2016, Dr. Henrietta Hughes, medical director for NHS England’s North Central and East London region, was named National Guardian for Safeguarding of Whistleblowers. Paraphrasing a statement after her appointment, she believed it takes a lot of courage, honesty, and selflessness to be a whistleblower. She also said that no one should ever be afraid to come forward for fear of punishment when speaking up for the safety and care of patients.
Along with her office, their national partners, and anyone who wants to support and protect staff members who speak up will help her drive a new agenda of openness. “Ultimately, these new policy guidelines will make for a safer NHS.” Staff members will have a great deal of support and gain confidence in speaking up especially for the public’s interest in safety.
The Case Of Dr. Hayley Dare – Feb 11, 2015:
Dr. Dare had a perfect 20-year reputation for helping patients and excellence within her field. Her entire career was damaged when she chose to speak up about concerns for patients’ safety to the CEO of the West London Mental Health NHS Trust. Absolutely no one should ever have to go through such a horrific experience like she did.
The NHS Trust spent £130,000 fighting Dare’s accusations, even though they understood that her claims were accurate. She was harassed, called “A Very Disturbed Women”, bullied, and then fired. After losing her job, based on a legal technicality, the Judge said her disclosure was not made in good faith (which did not exist at the time) and a provision that no longer has to be satisfied. The NHS Trust went after Dr. Dare for £100,000 in court costs.
Things have changed thanks to Sir Francis’ report, the creation of the Freedom To Speak Up Guardianship, the network of Freedom to Speak Up Guardians in NHS Trusts, and others who support and protect those who speak up. No one should ever go through this again.
About Sir Robert Francis:
He is a British barrister who specialises in medical law, treatments for mental and medical issues, clinical discipline and negligence. He has chaired various independent investigations.