You may have heard of raising concerns (sometimes called ‘whistleblowing’) from high-profile cases of nurses and others who’ve reported bad and dangerous practice to the media, in many cases after failing to get any kind of positive response from their managers.
There’s a lot of excellent health care in the UK, but occasionally a situation comes to light that exposes extremely bad practice. Reports have appeared in the papers and on TV in recent years of shocking instances of bad practice that have led to suffering or even death for vulnerable people receiving health care.
Very often, these kinds of scandals only come to the public’s attention through the action of people who speak out against the abuses. But why should this be the case? Why should conscientious health care staff not be able to get things changed without having to report bad practice to people outside their own organisation?
When some of the health scandals of recent years have been investigated, it’s been found that employees in the organisations where the scandals took place were too frightened to speak out. It wasn’t just the fear of reprisals – perhaps of being disciplined or losing their jobs – that put them off. There was also a kind of unwritten set of rules within these organisations, a workplace culture that discouraged people from being open and honest. Managers were found to have turned deaf ears to complaints and accused staff of disloyalty if they tried to take matters further.
The UK Government recognised that many of these staff were putting their jobs and careers at risk – indeed, some have been sacked as a result of raising concerns – and that this was wrong. The Government could see that the motivation of staff was to protect vulnerable people, so it put in place the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, which applies to almost all workers and employees in England, Wales and Scotland.
This law recognises that many cases of raising concerns (‘whistleblowing’) are about people ‘making disclosures in the public interest’ to protect people who are at risk. It protects individuals who disclose issues of concern to the highest levels within their organisation, and even to the appropriate national health department if necessary. It also provides protection, in defined circumstances, for wider disclosure to, for example, a member of parliament.
Your organisation will have a ‘whistleblowing’ policy – if you haven’t already seen this, ask your manager or supervisor to go over it with you. In addition, you can find out more about raising concerns on the RCN website, and from the NMC. Health Education England has developed two e-learning sessions and two films that aim to raise awareness on the importance of raising concerns.
Listen to this audio clip example of three health care assistants discussing their concerns about a staffing issue in their workplace.