Whistleblowers in the NHS must be heard

I READ with great interest the piece by John Womersley (Another Voice, 15 September) about the problems facing the NHS in Scotland. It is reassuring to know that there is recognition that big changes are required and are taking place.

It was also interesting to note that the approach in Scotland differs from that in England. Is this an example of “Scottish solutions for Scottish problems”? Time will tell, but of one thing there is no doubt. There are problems.

There has been much recent criticism of the NHS based on the experience of service users, and many people leaping to its defence in response. The NHS is a huge organisation and not all of the people working in it, as in any large organisation, are there for the best of reasons or are suited to the work. It is for this reason that accountability is so important. This protects those, hopefully the majority, acting in a professional manner from those who would bring down the reputation of the whole.

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There are incompetent doctors. There are negligent nurses. There are carers who bully and mistreat patients. To deny this is ridiculous. This is why the people who are best placed to observe them, be they other doctors, nurses, patients or families, must be able to call them to account. There must be an independent body which can be called upon to discipline anyone who it can be demonstrated is not performing as required. It cannot be left to health boards, which risk their own reputations by admitting to problems.

As John Womersley states, complaints are processed with the aim of rebuttal rather than the aim of learning lessons. That approach often goes beyond rebuttal with attempts made to discredit the complainer by suggesting that they are the ones with the problem.

Changing this culture is an enormous task made more difficult by the reluctance to remove the people who are unsuited to the jobs they are charged with doing. It remains to be seen whether the Scottish approach will prove more successful than that of England or, indeed, if either will deliver improvements, but there is no doubt that without the cooperation of the good people in the NHS the task will be that much harder.

David Petrie, Auchterarder