Page last updated at 19:31 GMT, Thursday, 16 April 2009 20:31 UK

Calls for whistle-blower review

Margaret Haywood
Margaret Haywood worked undercover on the Panorama documentary

A nurse who was struck off after secretly filming an expose of elderly care at a hospital claims staff are afraid to speak out.

Margaret Haywood, 58, who filmed at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton in 2005, has called for a review of how the NHS deals with whistle-blowers.

The Conservative Party said: "Too often in the NHS there is a closed culture which seeks to hush up problems."

The Department of Health said whistle-blowers were protected by law.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council said Ms Haywood did not fulfil her nursing obligations and found her guilty of misconduct.

Too often in the NHS there is a closed culture which seeks to hush up problems rather than address them

Anne Milton

The chair of the fitness to practise panel, Linda Read, said Ms Haywood, of Liverpool, could have attempted to address shortcomings by other means "but it was never a course of action she fully considered".

Ms Haywood, who has been a nurse for over 20 years, said she was convinced she had done the right thing.

She said: "It is a serious issue and I knew it was a risk I was taking but I thought the filming was justified and it was in the public interest.

"I did voice my concerns through my immediate line manager and I also went to my ward manager but nothing was really taken on board."

Ms Haywood added: "Nurses are afraid to speak out about what is happening and the whole process needs to be reviewed so nurses can make it easier to voice their concerns."

'Genuine concerns'

A spokesman for the Royal College of Nursing said parts of the NHS did not have "systems or working environments" in place that encouraged staff to speak out.

He added: "This can put staff in an extremely difficult position and when staff concerns are discouraged or ignored, it can often lead to poor patient care getting worse.

"It is absolutely vital that healthcare staff at all levels feel they can raise concerns about poor patient care with their managers."

But a Department of Health spokesperson said: "Whistle-blowers 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 and we have set up a special helpline for whistle-blowers which treats calls in confidence."

Shadow Health Minister Anne Milton said the Conservative Party would give nurses and doctors new protection to "report their concerns easily and anonymously".

'Dignity and respect'

She said: "It is indefensible for any health professional to breach patient confidentiality and film elderly people without consent while they are in a state of distress.

"But we need to understand why Ms Haywood felt the need to do what she did. Too often in the NHS there is a closed culture which seeks to hush up problems rather than address them."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb called on the government to make an "absolute commitment to dignity and respect in the way the elderly are treated".

He said: "While no member of staff should breach patient confidentiality, the bottom line is that Margaret Haywood has exposed the horrifying and disgraceful way many elderly patients are treated.

"It is simply outrageous that this is going on in today's NHS. This neglect, which verges on abuse, is utterly intolerable in this day and age and must be exposed and eradicated."

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