NHS whistleblowing ‘culture of fear’

A key recommendation of the public inquiry into the Stafford Hospital scandal was promoting whistleblowing. However, campaigners say that despite the initiative to create a more open culture, whistleblowers still face problems in speaking out about the health service.

Patients First warned that a “culture of fear” still existed.  It has produced a dossier of 70 cases, highlighting problems like bullying and mismanagement of complaints. The document is being handed in to an independent review of whistleblowing, which was set up by the Department of Health in England and is being led by Sir Robert Francis.

Nearly half the cases are continuing but Patients First said all had suffered some loss either professionally, personally or financially.The dossier concluded that there was a “real and continuing problem over the treatment of those who raise concerns”.

The warning comes after a range of measures were put in place to try to encourage whistleblowing.

Ministers have spoken out about the use of “gagging orders”, while the Nursing and Midwifery Council has issued new guidelines to help staff speak out. A national whistleblowers’ telephone hotline has also been established and the government is now introducing a “duty of candour” to force the NHS to be open and honest about mistakes.

But Patients First chairwoman Dr Kim Holt said: “There has not been any real progress. I have been shocked by the number of people who come to us who are having problems. For me, bullying is the major issue. We need to get employers to take this seriously and implement the policies they have to give whistleblowers proper support. That is the only way of changing this.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We have come a long way since the tragic events at Mid Staffs but we still hear of cases where staff concerns are being ignored. That’s why I asked Sir Robert Francis to lead this review, and help create a more open culture in the NHS.”

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