Whilst watching the BBC One Panorama episode: “Revealed: Britain’s Mental Health Crisis” the presenter said that during the 2 years that she has been investigation this story, numerous health care professionals have voiced their concerns regarding funding cuts and bed shortages, however most were reluctant to go on camera due to fear of the consequences of speaking out. This made me think about the issue of ‘Whistleblowing’, which, according to the show, is prevalent, especially in when it comes to mental health service provision and especially in the current climate of the NHS where underfunding and the continuous fight to meet budget demands are rife.
What is whistleblowing?
Th term ‘whistleblowing; refers to individuals raising concerns about wrong-doings and misconduct, both on an individual and an organisational level.
What are the aims of whistleblowing?
One of the aims of whistleblowing is to of course instigate a change and improve services and the way things are done. People who are doing the wrongdoing may be unaware that they are doing something wrong or potentially harmful, hence the aim of the whistleblower in this kind of scenario would be to alert them of this fact so that they can learn from their mistake and ultimately improve their practice. However, the main aim of whistleblowing is to protect both patients and staff, and optimise patient care.
What are the challenges whistleblowers may face?
The whistleblower may face backlash from colleagues and employers – this can be both personal and professional. For example, in the personal capacity, the whistleblower could be victimised, bullied, intimidated and harassed, which could then lead to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment and shame. In the professional capacity, they could find themselves on the receiving end of disciplinary action (e.g. losing their job), their allegations may not be believed by management and counter allegations about their practice could be fabricated. They could also feel like, or be made to feel like they are betraying the their colleagues, their team and their organisation, even though they are in fact trying to do what is in the best interests of their patients and colleagues by raising awareness of misconduct, which needs to be addressed.
Some high-profile cases (involving whistleblowers):
- Bristol Royal Infirmary (1990’s) – high mortality rate in paediatric cardiac surgery
- Alder Hey Children’s Hospital (1988 – 1995) – unauthorised removal, retention, and disposal of human tissue, including children’s organs, without familial consent.
- Stafford Hospital (late 2000’s) – poor care and high mortality rate
Whistleblowers are vital in increasing the quality of care received by patients, but are doing so at great cost to themselves – both on a personal and professional level. It’s hugely important that a climate of openness is created in the NHS, whereby staff feel confident and comfortable in raising legitimate concerns about issues that they feel need addressing, without fear of any form of reprisal from colleagues and employers. After all, when mistakes are made, lessons should be learnt and systems and services should be improved. This learning process will be hindered if people are afraid to speak out when they see something wrong.