Page last updated at 23:52 GMT, Sunday, 10 May 2009 00:52 UK

NHS whistle-blowers 'need help'

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

There are already laws to protect whistle-blowers

The NHS must help ensure whistle-blowers are listened to and supported, nursing leaders say.

The Royal College of Nursing is making the issue one of the key themes of its annual conference this week.

It comes after a nurse was struck off for secretly filming an expose of elderly care and critical inspections into services at Stafford Hospital.

A poll of 5,000 nurses by the union suggested many hospitals were not acting on patient safety concerns.

The results were released to coincide with the start of the four-day conference in Harrogate.

We've had laws protecting whistle-blowers for 10 years no, however they are not worth the paper they're written on if they sit in a drawer and gather dust
Peter Carter, of the Royal College of Nursing

It showed that while nearly two thirds of nurses have raised concerns about care, more than one in three claimed no action had been taken.

What is more, the poll also showed nurses were worried about the consequences of whistle-blowing despite having formal protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

Eight in 10 said they would be concerned about victimisation for speaking out, while a fifth reported they had been actively discouraged from reporting concerns.

One nurse who spoke out against poor care told the union: "There are some managers who still marginalise me and make it clear that I am persona non grata. I have been told I will never get on in the trust because I don't go with the flow."


The RCN is highlighting the issue because of two high-profile cases.

Nurse Margaret Haywood was struck off last month after filming examples of neglect at Brighton's Royal Sussex Hospital for a BBC Panorama programme.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council said she had failed to follow her obligations as a nurse.

This followed the controversy over Stafford Hospital which inspectors criticised for "appalling" standards of emergency care after "patients needlessly died".

RCN general secretary Peter Carter said nurses had raised concerns about care at the hospital.

He said the profession needed reassurances they would not suffer if they did whistle-blow and NHS trusts needed to ensure mechanisms were in place to make sure nurses were listened to.

He added: "We've had laws protecting whistle-blowers for 10 years, however they are not worth the paper they're written on if they sit in a drawer and gather dust."

The Tories have already called for a new law to allow NHS staff to report concerns "easily and anonymously".

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "We will need to consider the detailed results of this new survey and what further action could be taken to embed best practice on whistleblowing policies in the NHS.

"Whistleblowers already have full protection under the Public Interest Disclosure Act passed by this government.

"We expect that any member of staff who reports concerns about the safety or quality of care to be listened to by their managers and action taken to address their concerns.

"The new NHS Constitution includes an explicit right for staff who report wrong doing to be protected.

"In addition, we have taken out a contract with the charity Public Concern at Work to provide a helpline that is manned by lawyers with expertise, who can provide advice and support. It is available to all NHS staff and calls to it are treated in confidence."

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