Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Those who raise safety concerns must be treated with consideration and respect

According to the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-22252425) a survey suggests that about a quarter of nurses who raise alarms about patient safety are warned off by managers. Some whistle-blowers said they were belittled or bullied. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is reported as talking of a ‘climate of fear’. To his credit the Health Minister Dr Dan Poulter has said that those who speak should be listened to and protected from reprisals.

Organisations that do not have open reporting cultures are NOT safe. A culture of fear is the greatest enemy of safety. It is a ‘no-brainer’ really. If people are frightened of saying something when they see things that are not right – or even dangerous – then those ‘error traps’ will remain hidden out of sight, until they cause an accident and somebody gets hurt.

Where managers discourage members of staff from reporting safety concerns they are also doing themselves no favours. They just end up trying to manage an unsafe organisation that they do not understand. It’s a good example of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of the king’s new clothes.

This recent survey gives us some information about the way things are in nursing, but what happens in other professions such as social care, the police and education? There may be no surveys in these fields but I think many people do not feel comfortable with whistle-blowing. An experienced child protection manager recently told a committee of MPs how dedicated members of her staff lived with “… an ongoing culture of fear … they do fear telling the truth and losing their jobs. They don’t feel whistle-blowing works.” http://chrismillsblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/a-culture-of-overwork-and-fear.html   

And an article by Amelia Hill in the Guardian powerfully recounts the stories of some social care practitioners who have blown the whistle and suffered as a result.

Effectively protecting and safeguarding children requires professionals and organisations involved to practice safely and to address safety concerns. Organisations need to make strong clear statements encouraging staff to report their concerns without fear. Then they must practice what they preach and ensure that staff members who raise concerns are treated with consideration and respect.