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“Climate of Fear” Causes Suffering for NHS Whistleblowers

By Practice Group Leader, Employment and Partnership

An independent review into whistleblowing in the NHS confirms that NHS staff are silenced by the fear to speak up, with patient safety at risk as a result.

Of great concern was the treatment of whistleblowers reporting problems in the interest of patient care and a better service, with several having been ignored and even encountering bullying and intimidation. As a result, many NHS staff have been left afraid to speak up due to the lack of sufficient Whistleblower Protection in the NHS. 

The review was led by Sir Robert Francis QC, who has previously been appointed to lead two independent inquiries into the Mid Staffordshire hospital scandal between 2005 and 2009. Sir Robert was approached by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to create an “honest and open” reporting culture in the NHS. 

The review received a “very impressive” response from NHS staff, with over 600 people communicating their experiences directly and a further 19,000 answering by online survey. In what was deemed a “climate of fear,” 30% of people who had raised concerns reportedly felt unsafe afterwards, with 15% fearing victimisation.  The report also confirmed that black, and minority ethnic whistleblowers in the NHS experience more victimisation than other groups. 

Sir Robert spoke of the unsupported, ignored or bullied staff suffering hugely, with accounts of cases where NHS staff have felt suicidal and become ill as a result of their treatment. 

Risking NHS Patient Care and Safety 

The landmark 200 page report will highlight the mistreatment of NHS staff who have flagged dangerous practice, with whistleblowers suspended and sacked by hospital bosses rather than concerns addressed seriously, at great risk to the care and safety of NHS patients. 

Those of us who have advised and continue to advise NHS whistleblowers will not be surprised to read these findings. The report, however, is clearly a huge step towards addressing the real problem which is identified as an organisational culture which seeks to attribute blame, rather than welcome workers who speak out for the good of patients, staff and the service. The law, at present, is limited and can only address matters once things have already gone wrong. The solution lies with the NHS to take proper steps and work towards a culture of no blame and “speak up.” 

Slater and Gordon offer expert legal advice on whistleblowing and immediate legal representation is available in England & Wales. Call us 24/7 on freephone 0800 916 9060 or contact us online and we will call you. 

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