By KATIE STRICK FOR THE DAILY MAIL 10 October 2016
- Whistleblowing chief says NHS needs a ‘happier environment’ to improve
- Henrietta Hughes says grumpy doctors and nurses make atmosphere toxic
- Believes happier attitudes would improve care and end bullying culture
The NHS needs a happier environment to improve levels of care and end a culture of bullying, its new whistleblowing chief has said.
According to Henrietta Hughes, grumpy doctors and nurses contribute to a ‘toxic environment’ that harms patients and prevents staff from speaking out.
Speaking in her first interview as ‘National Guardian for speaking-up’, Dr Hughes, a GP, urged ‘every single person’ in the health service to be more positive at work.
According to whistleblower and GP Henrietta Hughes, grumpy doctors and nurses contribute to a ‘toxic environment’ that harms patients and prevents staff from speaking out (file image)
She said the NHS needed a greater dose of the ‘trust and joy and love’ hormone oxytocin.
‘If you think about that scene in Love Actually where everybody is meeting at the airport, that’s the oxytocin feeling,’ Dr Hughes told The Times.
‘So wouldn’t it be better if oxytocin was the predominant neurotransmitter in the NHS?’
Her role as a National Guardian was created as a result of Sir Robert Francis’ report into the ‘horrific’ victimisation of staff who drew attention to poor levels of care, which called for an end to the health service’s climate of fear.
On top of the national guardian, local whistleblowing guardians will also be appointed at every hospital.
Dr Hughes said her role was ‘to create a really positive culture in the NHS so that all staff feel safe to speak up.’
She also raised her concerns that medics are too afraid to come forward, saying: ‘Staff are seeing things which could potentially be a risk to patient safety and they don’t feel safe to speak up about it. That’s a really worry.’
She added: ‘If you bring a positive attitude to work with you then you start seeing all those benefits of working well as a team.’
‘If you come to work feeling distrustful, you’re going to transfer that emotion on to the way you deal with your patients.’
Dr Hughes said her role was ‘to create a really positive culture in the NHS so that all staff feel safe to speak up’
The problem is one that must be tackled by every member of staff in the NHS, Dr Hughes warned.
She said: ‘It’s about every single person seeing this as their responsibility…If you’re a consultant and you’re responsible for ensuring the safe care of your patients, then it’s your duty to have good relationships with your colleagues.
‘And if you’re struggling with that, do something about it.
‘At the farthest extreme, if you’ve got someone who’s responsible for the safer surgical checklist and they don’t see it as something they need to be involved in, you could end up having the wrong leg taken off.’
Although critics have argued that her role will be mainly ineffective without official investigatory powers, Dr Hughes was adamant that most NHS workers were keen to raise standards.
She said: ‘I’m really hoping to work in partnership as a supportive and developmental arm rather than something which is seen as punitive.’
The ‘two big barriers’ still preventing staff from whistleblowing are fear of victimisation and the expectation that nothing would be done, Dr Hughes warned.
She said she wanted the NHS brand to ‘carry with it the confidence for patients and the public that if something has been identified as a problem, the organisation is doing something about it.’
Kim Holt from the whistleblowers’ organisation Patients First told The Times: ‘It’s all fine and well going with a positive attitude but if you’re subjected to relentless attack and hostility nobody is going to be happy and positive and smiling.
‘It would be lovely to think that the world was full of people who all behaved in an appropriate way, but there are people who have been allowed to continue with negative behaviour in the workplace and that needs to be rooted out.’
Arguing that Dr Hughes focus on positivity was ‘a bit utopian’, Dr Holt added: ‘It needs to be backed up by your manager and by your organisation. When the workforce sees that they are supported for speaking out rather than driven out, that’s what makes the difference.’
Anthea Mowat from the British Medical Association told The Times: ‘Everyone in the NHS, especially those in managerial and leadership positions, must lead by example to make this a reality.’