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Nurses fear blowing the whistle on unsafe care

RCN surveys finds ‘culture of fear and intimidation’ puts many off doing the right thing

Ingrid Torjesen

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

A “culture of fear and intimidation” in some workplaces is preventing nurses from blowing the whistle on poor quality or unsafe care, a survey by the Royal College of Nursing has found.

Around a quarter (24 per cent) of more than 8,000 nurses who responded to the survey said they had been discouraged or warned off raising concerns. And almost half (44 per cent) said that worries about victimisation or reprisals would make them think twice about blowing the whistle.

Dr Peter Carter, RCN chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, speaking at the RCN Congress in Liverpool, said: “These responses illustrate that despite the recent attention which has been drawn to the importance of whistleblowing, many nurses are still experiencing a culture of fear and intimidation if they try to speak out. This is putting patient safety at risk.”

One of the key lessons from the Francis report was that frontline staff needed to feel confident that they could raise concerns about patient safety without fear of reprisals. However, the results show that NHS managers are not creating the culture required to encourage nurses to come forward with concerns.

Just under half (45 per cent) of those nurses who had raised concerns said their employer took no action, while about a third (32 per cent) said they didn’t know whether their organisation had a whistleblowing policy. Of those respondents whose organisation did have a whistleblowing policy, 37 per cent were not aware that there is legal protection for all employees who raise concerns.

“Nursing staff want to provide excellent care, but sometimes the systems they work in do not allow this. Staff know what is safe for their patients and what is not,” Dr Carter said. “However, they cannot raise concerns if they feel unsure about what their employer’s policy is or what the repercussions will be.

“In particular, nurses have told us about occasions when they have been bullied, ostracised or belittled when they have tried to raise concerns on behalf of their patients. The stakes are simply too high for this to be allowed to continue. Trusts which don’t encourage an open culture from the very top will only continue to make mistakes, sometimes with devastating consequences.”

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