Scots nurses still fear reprisal if they blow whistle

Theresa Fyffe: Survey results 'desperately worrying''. Picture: Contributed
Theresa Fyffe: Survey results 'desperately worrying''. Picture: Contributed
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NURSES in Scotland believe better support is needed for whistleblowers, with just three out of ten convinced management takes their concerns seriously, according to a new survey by the Royal College of Nursing.

The poll conducted by ICM revealed nurses in Scotland were less likely than their English counterparts to be aware that there is legal protection for all employees who raise concerns about wrongdoing, while Scottish nurses were also more likely to have been discouraged or told not to raise concerns about patient safety.

The survey of 8,262 members of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) was conducted after the high-profile inquiry into Mid Staffordshire Hospital, which found that 1,200 people had died needlessly. The poll found that in Scotland, 29 per cent of nurses had been discouraged or told directly not to raise concerns about patient safety, compared with the UK average of 24 per cent, while 39 per cent of Scots nurses were not aware of the legal protection for whistleblowers, compared with the UK average of 37 per cent.

The poll interviewed 792 members in Scotland, 64 per cent of whom had personally raised concerns about patient safety with their employer or manager. Among those nurses, 53 per cent raised concerns about staffing levels and 21 per cent about patient safety. However, 46 per cent reported that no action was taken.

The survey also found that in Scotland, 48 per cent of nurses said fear of reprisals would make them think twice about whistleblowing, compared to 44 per cent in the UK.

The RCN annual conference began yesterday in Liverpool and finishes tomorrow.

Commenting on the findings, RCN Scotland direector Theresa Fyffe said: “Despite all the rhetoric and noise about changing the culture of our NHS, it’s desperately worrying that less than a third of nurses think they would be listened to at work and that if they raised concerns, they would be acted on. Because so few do feel confident, it’s more important than ever, for the safety of patients that staff can, as a last resort, blow the whistle and be supported when they do, so it’s doubly worrying that six out of ten nurse think better support is still needed for whistleblowers.

“Nurses have a responsibility to raise their concerns if they see examples of poor care and all health boards have whistleblowing policies in place.

“The Scottish Government recently launched the National Confidential Alert line for staff, which they hope will help nurses and all other staff feel safe to raise their concerns without fear of reprisal, but it would not be necessary if managers and health boards listened to staff and took action in a positive way, using their existing policies.”

Health secretary Alex Neil said: “It is important that all NHS workers feel they can raise any concerns they may have safely and confidentially, and be reassured that health boards will listen.

“In Scotland, we have robust whistleblowing policies in place. We have also put in place a 
National Confidential Alert Line for NHS Scotland employees, a free, confidential helpline that provides an additional level of support for NHS staff who wish to raise concerns.”