I despair of older managers and market leaders in the NHS ever understanding why whistleblowing is a very dangerous activity. All their urgings and all the policies and revised constitutions in the world won’t change dangerous organizations and for that reason won’t protect whistleblowers or patients. And today, to make issues worse, staff face possible disciplinary action if they ignore poor practice.
The Campaign Against Unnecessary Suspensions and Exclusions UK (CAUSE) was setup twelve years ago to provide information to NHS staff who’ve been wrongfully suspended, many of whom have attempted to blow the whistle and been silenced. How might staff enter this whistleblowing position? A common process is a nurse who works within an area with excellent leadership where personnel are reputed and consulted, then changes jobs.
They start on a fresh ward to find poor working practices. They cannot realize why staff appear to tolerate these dangerous procedures. They try to use a quiet word with colleagues who appear approachable. Some may recognize but others are hostile and protective. They try to speak to the Ward Manager and get a poor response. By this time around they are labeled as a trouble maker. Worse still, 1 day these are called into the office and asked to bring a union rep or colleague with them and in a state of shock these are told of vague, unsubstantiated allegations against them.
To their disbelief they are suspended and marched off the premises. This scenario, and the ensuing procedures, are amazing if you don’t have observed them, as the team at CAUSE have done. Repeatedly we hear of unaccountable managers protecting themselves and undertaking biased investigations, character assassination, lengthy suspensions, disciplinary hearings which resemble kangaroo courts and dismissal of staff who previously had exemplary work records ultimately. The human resources staff appear to feel they need to protect themselves so use the managers.
Undisclosed amounts of taxpayers’ money are paid, in out of courtroom settlements if the staff member gets the energy and legal support to consider their case to work tribunal. Being suspended is the most dangerous wrongfully, devastating and damaging action that management may take against a staff member. It really is too devastating with their households. Other staff think it is such a serious action to be taken, there should be something wrong and this person’s reputation and career are significantly broken. The effect of the wrongly labeled ‘neutral act’ makes people ill. When colleagues who know what is going on, see all this, it is understandable that they feel powerless to improve anything.
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Who in their right minds would increase a whisper let alone blow a whistle? The unions have some proactive volunteer repetitions and full time officers who are well versed in employment rules and not scared to speak out for their members. More often the fulltime officers are hard to contact However, probably question the member’s innocence and can work for the least serious disciplinary result. A final written warning is viewed as a success because dismissal has been prevented even though their member is not liable of any misconduct.
Nationally CAUSE asked the unions to establish a joint working group to provide knowledge to officers confronted with these situations, but the numbers of individuals affected remain comparatively small and the resources of the unions are limited. The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) hope to develop something to monitor systemic failure in trusts.
So far they have ignored the processes I have already been describing. This is clearly observed in their ruling for them Haywood case by the Fitness to Practice team. They referred to the covertly filmed overlook as ‘failures of an exceedingly serious character’ but required no action against the perpetrators and the supervisor, who got conducting a woefully inadequate investigation. Instead they found the whistleblower guilty and struck her name from the register. The message to whistleblowers was clear – don’t expect us to protect public and staff by firmly taking action where there is malfunctioning management.