An independent inquiry has been ordered into the treatment of whistleblowers by the NHS amid fears from the head of the Mid Staffs inquiry that the ‘culture of fear’ is worse than was thought
Daily Telegraph 24 June 2014
A culture of fear in the NHS may be worse than it was thought, the head of the Mid Staffs inquiry has warned, as a list of hospitals with a “poor” rating for honesty about safety is published.
Ministers yesterday appointed Sir Robert Francis QC to lead an independent inquiry into whistleblowing in the NHS.
The investigation comes amid growing concerns about the treatment of staff who try to raise the alarm on safety risks.
The appointment is part of a wider NHS transparency drive under which hospitals will receive better ratings for coming clean about their errors.
A new safety website means from today patients can look up every hospital in the country, to check seven safety indicators, including infection levels, staff numbers, and whether workers would recommend the hospital to their own family.
The data shows 29 hospitals have been rated “poor” for their overall openness and honesty of reporting, while 35 sites received the worst rating for infection control.
Hospitals will also be encouraged to introduce “airline-style” safety briefings for patients, using videos setting out what to expect during their visit, and urging them to speak up if they have concerns.
Sir Robert has been asked by ministers to lead the inquiry which will examine how to protect whistleblowers from reprisals, and how to change the culture of the NHS so staff feel able to speak up.
During the public inquiry into Mid-Staffs, nurses told how the were bullied into silence after trying to alert managers that patients were being put in danger from appalling failings in care.
On Tuesday Sir Robert said that he feared that the situation was even worse than he had thought, with increasing numbers of whistleblowers contacting him since his landmark report to Government last year.
He said: “Since the inquiry I’ve had a lot of people talk to me about the culture of fear that prevents people speaking out – and maybe it’s a reflection [of that culture] that not as much of that came out at the inquiry as might have done.”
Sir Robert said the inquiry would examine why it was that NHS staff felt afraid to speak up, warning that every time the health service treated a whistleblower badly many more staff were deterred from “doing the right thing”.
He said the Mid Staffs inquiry had shown “the appalling consequences for patients when there is a ‘closed ranks’ culture.”
In April, a cardiologist who was hounded out of his job after warning that patients were dying because of cost-cutting practices won a landmark legal victory in the longest-running case in NHS whistleblowing history.
Last week Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary met six NHS whistleblowers who pleaded for more to be done to help those who lose homes and careers because they tried to speak up for patients.
He said on Tuesday that the NHS “has a long way to go” in the way it responds to staff who try to raise concerns.”
He said the new campaign would aim to save 6,000 lives in three years, halving the 12,000 avoidable deaths estimated annually.
The safety website launched yesterday measures each hospital against seven measures; infection control; meeting regulators standards; staffing levels compared with those planned; patients being assessed for blood clots; proportion of staff who would recommend their workplace to friends and family; whether the hospital responds quickly to alerts of safety risks and an overall measure, examining how “open and honest” the reporting culture is.
The new indicator on infection control brings together existing data on cleanliness, levels of bugs such as MRSA, and patient inspections, to form ratings.
In total, 35 NHS hospital sites were rated as poor, with 33 found to be good and 228 okay.
For overall levels of “open and honest” reporting, 29 acute hospital trusts were rated as poor, while 25 were rated as good and 87 as okay.
The measure was based on their performance in five categories, including reporting levels of minor and major incidents.
Under the ratings, trusts fared better for being open about their mistakes, and worse if they had suspiciously low levels of reporting.
Hospitals rated as “poor” for open and honest reporting of safety risks:
Yeovil District Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
St Helens And Knowsley Hospitals NHS Trust
Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust
Royal United Hospital Bath NHS Trust
Basildon And Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation
Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust
The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust
West Middlesex University Hospital NHS Trust
Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Croydon Health Services NHS Trust
Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust
Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Countess of Chester Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust
Bolton NHS Foundation Trust
North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust
Doncaster And Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Royal Liverpool And Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust
Chelsea And Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
Wrightington, Wigan And Leigh NHS Foundation Trust
North West London Hospitals NHS Trust
Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust
United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust
East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust
Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust
Brighton And Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust
Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust
East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust
Shrewsbury And Telford Hospital NHS Trust