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February 11th 2015

Medical Negligence

New support for NHS whistleblowers is key to improving patient care

Simon Wilson

Simon Wilson

Head of New Claims and Senior Solicitor

New support for NHS whistleblowers is key to improving patient care

By Simon Wilson, medical negligence expert and senior solicitor at Neil Hudgell Solicitors

Fotolia_54048895_XS-150x150By Simon Wilson, medical negligence expert and senior solicitor at Neil Hudgell Solicitors

Today’s report by Sir Robert Francis QC into the treatment of whistleblowers within the NHS will hopefully have a positive impact not only on the management of health service staff across the UK – but also on the overall standard of patient care.

Sir Robert’s conclusions on the NHS today are quite clear.

As part of his independent review, many staff have revealed how they don’t speak up and challenge the poor patient care they see because they feel their concerns would not be listened to. Others simply fear victimisation as a result of challenging their bosses.

“What I heard during the course of the review from staff, employers, regulators and unions and others leaves me in no doubt that there’s a serious problem in the National Health Service,” Sir Robert told reporters at a press briefing in London today.

“Taking into account all the evidence obtained by the review, I have come to the conclusion there must be a change of culture.”

A change of culture in the NHS is something we at Neil Hudgell Solicitors have long called for.

As we handle many claims relating to clinical negligence at NHS doctors and hospitals across the country each year, we have long seen a culture of denial and obstruction when legal investigations begin into how things have gone badly wrong for patients.

Complaints procedures are far too complicated, obvious mistakes are often denied without being fully investigated, and as a result, opportunities to learn valuable lessons, and ultimately improve the quality of patient care, are lost.

Sir Robert has urged “action at every level of the NHS” to make staff raising alarms over poor patient care the norm.

He today revealed plans ‘Freedom to Speak Up Guardians’ being put in place in every NHS Trust – a named person to give independent support to whistleblowers and hold boards to account if they fail to focus on the patient safety issue.

Other proposals include creating a National Independent Officer, who will support those Guardians and intervene when cases go wrong.

A support scheme is also being proposed to help good NHS staff who are now without work after raising their concerns to get another job.

Importantly, this has been a thoroughly comprehensive review of the current working practices within the NHS. Some 600 staff spoke to the review team, with another 19,000 responding to an online survey. The NHS cannot dispute it or deny the findings.

Sir Robert says staff who raise concerns can often find themselves in a “toxic mix of grievance and disciplinary action” impacting on every aspect of their lives.

“Too often, honestly-expressed anxieties have met with hostility and breakdown of working relationships,” he said.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered this review last June, after Sir Robert led two inquiries into failures at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which the QC said had shown the “appalling consequences for patients when there is a ‘closed ranks’ culture”.

In his letter to Mr Hunt after concluding the latest report, Sir Robert wrote that some cases he came across had been “truly shocking”.
It is to be hoped that today marks the start of a new era of openness across the NHS where such cases are not commonplace, but extremely rare.

The covering-up of poor patient care and negligence needs to stop, with improving patient care, and the quality of the NHS, the only goal at all times.

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