13 December 2011
The doctor who blew the whistle on the inadequacies of the department in which Baby P was failed, has said that it is still too dangerous for medical and non-medical staff to whistle blow despite clear guidance from the Department of Health for members of staff who wish to raise their concerns, to be able to do so with impunity.
Dr Kim Holt, will make the comments at the launch of Patients First
a new group made up from whistle blowers from within the NHS set up to lobby the UK Government to create policies and laws that ensure the NHS becomes more open and accountable. The group is being supported by Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA), the charity for patient safety and justice, with whom they intend to work in partnership.
In a hard-hitting speech at the launch event Dr Holt will say that whistle blowers should be championed in the health service and not, as she claims, served with gagging clauses and compromise agreements by health care managers hoping to make problems go away. In her own case, she refused a £120,000 gagging clause in the wake of Baby P’s death and has now been reinstated as a paediatrician under new hospital management.
Dr Holt will also announce that the group has launched legal action against Ealing Hospital NHS Trust and South London Healthcare NHS Trust.
Law firm Leigh Day & Co has asked both Trusts to provide a range of evidence in relation to their policies on whistle blowing, including what steps they have taken in the last 12 months to ‘audit, review and refresh’ their approach to whistle blowing, as required by the Department of Health Guidance “Speak Up for a Healthy NHS”.
That guidance makes clear that having a policy is not enough to deliver patient safety and that NHS bodies should take steps to monitor how confident staff feel about the approach of the NHS body to whistle blowing.
The legal action details specific instances where Ealing and South London Healthcare Trusts have been found wanting in relation to individuals who would describe themselves as whistle blowers and that both Ealing Hospital NHS Trust and South London Healthcare NHS Trust have failed, and are failing, to comply with their duties under the Department of Health Guidance.
Two further letters before action have been sent to NHS London and the Care Quality Commission, the bodies responsible for ensuring the Trusts' compliance with the Department of Health guidance, asking for details about how the whistle blowing policies have been implemented and monitored.
Dr Kim Holt said: “There is a real need to change the culture of the NHS to one of openness and transparency and not one where the truth is often hidden and employment laws mis-used to silence critics.
“Whistle blowing should be actively encouraged within the NHS. As the evidence given to the Mid Staffordshire inquiry from people too scared to raise concerns showed, without the ‘safety valve’ provided through an effective whistle blowing procedure patients may be harmed or even killed.”
AvMA chief executive, Peter Walsh said: "Guaranteed openness with patients goes hand in glove with support and protection of whistleblowers. AvMA is proud to be supporting this new group of dedicated, ethical health professionals who are committed to putting patients first, even when this is not made easy for them."
In a recent poll of more than 3,000 nurses for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) found nothing was done when fears were raised about issues including patient safety and too few staff on duty.
More than a third of nurses (34%) said they have been discouraged or told directly not to report their concerns about quality of care. Some 73% said managers had told them not to speak up, while 24% said work colleagues had said it was a bad idea.
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