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NHS culture adds whistleblowing insult to patient injury

NHS whistleblowers too often are victimised for speaking out, doctors leaders have said.

BMA council chair Mark Porter told a conference on whistleblowing that providing healthcare was ‘inherently risky’ but some of the risks patients faced were caused by the working environment and culture within the NHS.

He told yesterday’s conference, jointly hosted by the BMA and campaign group Patients First at BMA House, that there would continue to be poor care and avoidable patient-safety incidents ‘as long as the culture of quality and safety is not fully embedded into our service from the top to the bottom, and as importantly back again from the bottom to the top’.

He said: ‘We are engaged in a business that needs urgently to reform itself and to move from the victimisation of those with a conscience, to their celebration.’

The conference, Protecting Whistleblowers: Working Together to Create a Safe Culture for Patients and Doctors, also heard from London consultant paediatrician Kim Holt who set up Patients First after her own experiences as a whistleblower.


Bitter experience

She raised concerns about the child development centre where abuse victim Baby P, later named as Peter Connelly, was seen.

Dr Holt said she was ‘proud to be a whistleblower’ but her situation was unusual because, thanks to BMA support, she had been reinstated in her job.

‘The fact that I am seen as something special, that I held on to my job having told the truth, says all we need to know about the current culture in the health service,’ Dr Holt said.

The conference was held to raise awareness and generate new ideas to improve upon the way concerns about NHS care can be divulged. The BMA plans to publish updated guidance Whistleblowing: Raising Concerns about Patient Safety, advice for BMA members working in secondary care, shortly.


Better values

Former BMA president David Haslam, a Care Quality Commission national professional adviser, said the NHS should aim for a situation where whistleblowing was unnecessary because quality, care and listening was inbuilt.

He added: ‘Until then, we have to find ways of supporting people who wish to raise concerns, and deal with the concerns appropriately.’


Cure the NHS founder Julie Bailey echoed Professor Haslam’s views, saying: ‘We want openness and transparency — then we wouldn’t need whistleblowers.’

Ms Bailey set up the pressure group to campaign for a public inquiry into failings at the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust. The final inquiry report is due to be published in early 2013.

She told the audience of doctors, stakeholders and managers: ‘We shouldn’t be here today discussing how to protect whistleblowers. We should be here today discussing instead a whole culture change where zero harm and right first time are implemented into the NHS. We should make it the norm to report poor practice or poor care and it is only you that can do it — You are the ones who have got to be brave and not tolerate anything less.’