The future of healthcare – why whistleblowing is key to a healthy sector

The majority of healthcare staff act in good faith and are encouraged to speak out about what they see as a genuine concern…So why aren’t they?

From Alder Hey and Bristol, to Saville and Stafford Hospital, it’s safe to say that the health and social care sectors have been beset of their fair share of scandals in recent years. On far too many occasions, investigations have revealed that staff had serious concerns about what was happening in their organisations yet failed to raise them, resulting in these issues sinking under the radar. Of course, the majority of staff act in good faith and are encouraged to speak out about what they see as a genuine concern…So why aren’t they?

The dilemma about whether or not to raise a concern about a wrong-doing and how to go about it can affect anyone in any workplace. Many individuals have cited being too frightened or unsure of how to raise concerns as reasons for keeping quiet. Indeed, they may be worried about mentioning an issue, perhaps feeling that it’s none of their business or that it’s only a suspicion. They may feel that raising the matter would be disloyal to colleagues, to managers or to the practice, also fearing the repercussions of speaking out.

Whistleblowing is an important clinical governance tool – failure to heed a warning has had devastating consequences for patients, with a number of well-reported and high profile cases sadly resulting in tragedy. This is why whistleblowing must be a real consideration for healthcare leaders who must do all they can to ensure that issues are raised early and in the right way.

It’s important that senior managers in the health and social care sector create an environment where their staff feel comfortable to speak out about any concerns and feel confident that they will be heard and dealt with in a fair, professional manner – thereby overriding any fears of staff intimidation, exclusion or risk to their careers.

Managers should arrange team meetings to discuss whistleblowing and the value of an open and accountable workplace, distinguishing the difference between a whistleblowing concern and a grievance. These meetings should use case studies and outline policies that protect individuals from workplace reprisals for raising a genuine concern.

Producing a simple policy identifying key principles and contacts, and ensuring that employment contracts and other procedures reflect a similar message, will help employees feel comfortable to raise a concern about patient safety or other risks. After all, the culture you create will determine whether your staff will have the confidence to approach you or one of your colleagues.

High standards of clinical care and governance are integral to the health service. Greater transparency through whistleblowing can only serve to improve patient care, which is why it’s imperative that management make the practice easy – without offering a safe alternative to silence, you may never know there’s a serious problem until it is too late.