The Sunday Telegraph 3 August 2014
Sir Robert Francis, head of the Mid Staffs public inquiry, calls for an end to a culture of ‘denial and fear’ as he launches first ever independent review of whistleblowing
Whistleblowers who have tried to raise the alarm over risks to hospital patients will be urged to come forward, amid fears that too many have been hounded out by a “culture of denial and fear” in parts of the NHS.
Sir Robert Francis, the chairman of the public inquiry into the Mid Staffs scandal, will this week launch the first independent review of whistleblowing in the NHS, and call on those who have been mistreated to speak out.
The investigation is expected to begin on Wednesday, when the barrister will announce his panel and ask those who have been affected to come forward.
Last night he told The Sunday Telegraph that the inquiry will examine what changes the NHS needs to make to ensure that in future, staff receive support if they try to raise concerns about quality and safety of care.
“Every time a whistleblower is treated badly or says they have been treated badly, many people are deterred from speaking up – The Mid Staffordshire Public Inquiry showed the appalling consequences for patients when there is a culture of denial and fear,” Sir Robert said.
“Through the Freedom to Speak Up Review I want to find out what more we need to do to support staff to raise concerns, and make sure the NHS listens to them,” he said.
The public inquiry into Mid Staffs heard repeated evidence of how nurses and doctors who tried to warn that lives were being put at risk were bullied by colleagues and managers who were more concerned that the trust hit Labour’s NHS targets.
The Care Quality Commission, the regulator of health and social care, has also been dogged by accusations that it presided over a “cover up” of its failings, and put the reputation of the NHS ahead of patient safety.
Earlier this year, Sir Robert said he feared that attempts to bully and suppress those with concerns were even more common than he had thought, with increasing numbers of whistleblowers contacting him since his landmark report to Government last year.
This week those who have attempted to raise safety concerns will be invited to share their accounts with Sir Robert’s review, which will then invite witnesses to seminar hearings, before publishing its recommendations in November.
The review is likely to consider evidence from dozens of NHS staff and former employees, who say their careers have been left in tatters after warning that patients’ lives had been put at risk by cost-cutting or by too great an emphasis on Whitehall targets.
Earlier this year, Jeremy Hunt wrote to all health workers emphasising their rights to speak out about safety concerns, and promising changes to make it easier to do so.
Charlotte Leslie, a Conservative member of the Commons health select committee said she hoped the review would herald a turning point in NHS history.
She said: “For a decade or more, the message has been in the NHS that if you are clinician and speak out for patient safety, you can expect to be discredited, smeared and lose your livelihood. But if you are a manager doing a bad job or hiding the truth, you can often expect a promotion.”
She said that Jeremy Hunt had shown guts in tackling “a lethal taboo” in the NHS which had ended too many careers.