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  1. Content Article
    Prerana Issar is the Chief People Officer of NHS England and NHS Improvement. She was appointed in February 2019 to this post, which was created after senior leaders in the NHS and Department of Health and Social Care realised that a new approach was needed to a number of serious workforce issues which had become apparent. Among these is the complex, and hugely important, issue of speaking up (sometimes referred to as whistleblowing or raising concerns). Prerana recently retweeted a message from NHS England and NHS Improvement that "It's so important (for NHS staff) to feel able to speak up about anything which gets in the way of patient care and their own wellbeing".[1],[2] She is absolutely right... in principle. She is right to point out that NHS staff have both the right and the duty to speak up about problems like this, as is spelt out in the NHS Constitution[3] and professional codes of conduct for healthcare professionals.[4],[5],[6] The problem is that in practice, as an unknown but substantial number of NHS staff have discovered to their cost, their careers may be at risk if they do speak up as is evident from almost all the replies to both tweets.[1],[2] There is a sad pattern of disciplinary action being taken against staff who have, in good faith, raised concerns in the public interest. Even though their motivation in speaking up in the first place is to improve patient care, they discover to their astonishment that they are considered to be troublemakers for having done so. A depressing cycle of suspension, isolation, unfair dismissal, denigration and blacklisting of the person who has spoken up is often played out, whilst the original concerns and their validity are covered up. What a waste of valuable resources. The existence of such hostility to staff who have spoken up is evidenced in the 2015 report of the Freedom To Speak Up (FTSU) Review: "an independent review into creating an honest and open reporting culture in the NHS".[7] The press release which accompanied its publication announced that the review "identifies an ongoing problem in the NHS, where staff are deterred from speaking up when they have concerns and can face shocking consequences when they do. The review heard stories of staff that have faced isolation, bullying and counter-allegations when they’ve raised concerns. In some extreme cases when staff have been brave enough to speak up, their lives have been ruined".[8] The FTSU report calls for "an overhaul of NHS policies so that they don’t stand in the way of people raising concerns with those who can take action about them" and sets out "20 Principles and Actions which aim to create the right conditions for NHS staff to speak up". The principles are divided into five categories: the need for culture change; improved handling of cases; measures to support good practice; particular measures for vulnerable groups; and extending the legal protection.[7] In theory the law protects whistleblowers, but in practice, as a procession of disillusioned NHS staff who have experienced reprisals from their employers after speaking up have discovered the hard way, it does not. Employment tribunals are an alien environment for most healthcare staff. Case after case has shown that they are woefully ill-equipped to deal with precipitating patient care issues, in which tribunals appear to have little interest. Even when NHS staff are, against massive odds, found to have been unfairly dismissed after raising concerns in the public interest, the so-called remedy they receive almost invariably amounts merely to paltry financial 'compensation'. These are monetary awards that generally come nowhere near compensating for the full financial consequences. The adverse impact of this lack of protection for whistleblowers is not only on the individual but also includes the chilling effect of deterring other staff from raising concerns and the consequences of cover ups. True overall costs to the NHS, patients, whistleblowers and taxpayers of retaliation against staff who speak up are very much greater than financial costs alone. Staff surveys show that nearly 30% of NHS staff would not feel secure raising concerns about unsafe clinical practice.[9] Over 40% would not be confident that their organisation would address their concern if they do speak up.[10] There is still a lot to do in this area, as has been brought to the fore by recent reports of hostile responses by some NHS organisations to staff who have raised serious personal protective equipment (PPE) concerns affecting patient safety and health of themselves and their families. To be fair, serial staff surveys show a marginal improvement in the percentage of NHS staff who agreed they would feel secure raising concerns about unsafe clinical practice, up from a disturbingly low 68.3% in 2015 to 71.6% in 2019.[9] And a further tiny improvement in the percentage confident that their organisation would address their concern, up from an even lower 56.2% in 2015 to 59.8% in 2019. Viewed from the perspective of NHS whistleblowers whose careers have been wrecked after speaking up these are painfully slow rates of improvement. Bearing in mind widespread reports of PPE shortages, and warnings to NHS staff not to make a fuss about this, it will be interesting to see whether this glacial pace of change in speaking up culture is maintained when the results of the 2020 survey are available. Based on experience in the last two years, we can expect another prolonged FTSU publicity campaign in the month preceding the annual autumn NHS staff survey. The NHS Interim People Plan, published in June 2019, refers to development of a focus on whistleblowing and speaking up. It highlights the need for inclusive and compassionate leadership so that all staff are listened to, understood and supported, and the need to do more to nurture leadership and management skills of middle managers.[11] The original aim was to publish a full, costed NHS People Plan by Christmas 2019,[12] building on the interim plan, but this was delayed by unforeseen events, including a change of government, general election, Brexit ramifications and now the coronavirus pandemic. The interim plan makes clear the need to embed culture changes and leadership capability in order to achieve the aim of making the NHS "the best place to work". There is much to do, and I wish well to those who want to make it safe for staff to speak up, but they must be under no illusion – there is a long way to go – and this will take more than an overhaul of NHS policies. I hope to develop these themes in future postings to the hub. Comments welcome. References NHS England and NHS Improvement tweet, @NHSEngland, 15 May 2020, 6:35pm. Prerana Issar tweet, @Prerana_Issar, 15 May 2020, 6:47pm. The NHS Constitution for England. Updated 14 October 2015. Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). The Code: Professional standards of practice and behaviour for nurses, midwives and nursing associates, 2015, updated 2018. General Medical Council (GMC). Good medical practice: The duties of a doctor registered with the GMC. 2013, last update 2019. Health and Care Professions (HCPC). Standards of conduct, performance and ethics: The ethical framework within which our registrants must work, 2016. Freedom to speak up: An independent review into creating an open and honest reporting culture in the NHS. Report by Sir Robert Francis QC, 11 February 2015. Press release: Sir Robert Francis publishes his report on whistleblowing in the NHS, 11 February 2015. NHS Staff Survey 2019. q18b: % of staff agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement that: 'I would feel secure raising concerns about unsafe clinical practice'. NHS Staff Survey 2019 q18c: % of staff agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement that: 'I am confident that my organisation would address my concern'. Interim NHS People Plan, June 2019. https://www.longtermplan.nhs.uk/publication/interim-nhs-people-plan/ NHS People Plan overview, 2019.
  2. News Article
    A review of a clinical commissioning group has discovered “microaggressions and insensitivities” towards Black, Asian and minority ethnic staff, and the use of derogatory slurs about other groups. The report into Surrey Heartlands CCG also uncovered incidents of shouting, screaming and bullying among other inappropriate behaviour. And it was reported some staff were unwilling to accept Black Lives Matter events as important, stating “all lives matter”. The review also discovered a culture of denial and turning a blind eye to consistent concerns, with staff fearful of speaking up. In particular, the HR department was said to have been repeatedly told about the behaviour of one staff member but had chosen to ignore or delay dealing with the issues. However, the review found “no evidence for widespread discriminatory practices” and “no clear evidence for a widespread culture of bullying and ill-treatment” — but it added the systems to deal with concerns had failed and there was a sense of “organisational inaction”. Read full story (paywalled) Source: HSJ, 27 November 2020
  3. Community Post
    It's #SpeakUpMonth in the #NHS so why isn't the National Guardian Office using the word whistleblowing? After all it was the Francis Review into whistleblowing that led to the recommendation for Speak Up Guardians. I believe that if we don't talk about it openly and use the word 'WHISTLEBLOWING' we will be unable to learn and change. Whistleblowing isn’t a problem to be solved or managed, it’s an opportunity to learn and improve. So many genuine healthcare whistleblowers seem to be excluded from contributing to the debate, and yes not all those who claim to be whistleblowers are genuine. The more we move away for labelling and stereotyping, and look at what's happening from all angles, the more we will learn. Regardless of our position, role or perceived status, we all need to address this much more openly and explicitly, in a spirit of truth and with a genuine desire to learn and change.
  4. News Article
    The staff-side committee of a major hospital trust has stopped working with its leadership, with its chair alleging an ‘endemic’ culture of ‘racism, discrimination and bullying’. Irene Pilia, staff-side committee chair at King’s College Hospital Foundation Trust, told colleagues that the decision was taken “in the interests of staff”, especially black, Asian and minority ethnic workers, and expressed concerns about the organisation’s disciplinary procedures. She said the decision had the backing of staff committee officers and delegates. Ms Pilia, who is also the senior KCHFT Unite representative, said she was open to resuming partnership working again, but told trust executives: “I have lost trust and confidence in the ability of [KCHFT] to conduct fair, impartial and no-blame investigations. “Until there is tangible and credible evidence that racist behaviour at all levels is proactively eliminated, such that perpetrators face real consequences (including to the detriment of their careers) for their actions and are no longer allowed to behave in racist ways with impunity, I take a stand for the hundreds, possibly thousands of KCHFT staff whose voices are not being heard." Read full story (paywalled) Source: HSJ, 22 October 2020
  5. News Article
    An independent review found that commissioners’ investigation of a young boy’s death was ‘mismanaged’, and heard allegations that the person who coordinated it was bullied over the contents. The independent review, commissioned by NHS England, has published its final report following an investigation into Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire clinical commissioning group’s LeDer review into the death of Oliver McGowan. Chaired by Fiona Ritchie, the independent review was commissioned last year after evidence emerged that the CCG had rewritten earlier findings of the review, removing suggestions his death at North Bristol Trust in 2016 was avoidable. Oliver died in November 2016 after being given anti-psychotic medication against his own and his parents’ wishes and despite medical records showing he had an intolerance to anti-psychotics. He developed severe brain swelling because of the drugs and died.A local LeDer review — part of a programme aimed at improving care based on deaths among people with learning disabilities — was launched in 2017, seven months after his death, by the CCG (then operating as three separate organisations), then published in 2018. In 2018, a coroner concluded Oliver’s care prior to his death was “appropriate” and made no recommendations. His death is also currently the subject of a police investigation. The lead reviewer (Ms A) stated in her panel interview that during the time she was undertaking this LeDeR she had felt bullied, overworked and overly stressed by the demands placed on her by the various correspondences with solicitors and her line management. The fact that Ms A believed she was isolated and unsupported during this review illustrates evident failures in the CCG assurance and management processes at the time. In a final report by the subsequent independent review, published today, the panel led by Ms Ritchie “unanimously” agreed Oliver’s death was “potentially avoidable”. Read full story (paywalled) Source HSJ, 20 October 2020
  6. News Article
    An ambulance service could be put in special measures after a damning report criticised poor leadership for fostering bullying and not acting decisively on allegations of predatory sexual behaviour towards patients. East of England Ambulance Service Trust failed to protect patients and staff from sexual abuse, inappropriate behaviour and harassment, the Care Quality Commission said. It failed to support the mental health and wellbeing of staff, with high levels of bullying and harassment. Staff who raised concerns were not treated with respect and some senior leaders adopted a “combative and defensive approach” which stopped staff speaking out. “The leadership, governance and culture still did not support delivery of high-quality care,” the CQC said. Read full story (paywalled) Source: HSJ, 30 September 2020
  7. News Article
    NHS leaders are being encouraged to have ‘difficult discussions’ about inequalities, after a trust found its BAME staff reported being ‘systematically… bullied and harassed’, along with other signs of discrimination. A report published by Newcastle Hospitals Foundation Trust found the trust’s black, Asian and minority ethnic staff are more likely than white staff to be bullied or harassed by colleagues, less likely to reach top jobs, and experience higher rates of discrimination from managers. It claims to be the first in-depth review into pay gaps and career progression among BAME workforce at a single trust. The new report revealed that, in a trust survey carried out last year, some BAME staff described being subjected to verbal abuse and racial slurs by colleagues; had left departments after being given no chance of progression; and been “systematically… bullied and harassed”. Read full story (paywalled) Source: HSJ, 22 September 2020
  8. Content Article
    Key findings The survey results point to conclusions that seem to be equally applicable across different regions. Health workers in all countries need sufficient education and awareness to recognise and report workplace hazards. Workplace cultures must be improved to mandate appropriate reporting of hazards and to improve safety practices and especially to eliminate preventable bullying and harassment that can be intensified during an organisationally destabilising pandemic experience. The global health worker job market is very mobile like COVID-19, so lessons learned in one country or region must be translated to others. Economic classification, region, occupation and sex all play key roles in health worker’s perception of health and safety risk and mitigation measures in the workplace. Despite significant results across different demographic measures, the overall consensus of participants was clear. In spite of calls to action by the international community, risks to healthcare workers remain and mitigation measures are insufficient or in some cases nonexistent. These issues will continue to haunt the healthcare sector and will continue to exacerbate staff shortages globally. In the face of COVID-19 and its impacts on workplaces, it is also another reminder to the global health community to help those countries in need.
  9. News Article
    A hospital boss championed by Matt Hancock has been told to end “a toxic management culture” after doctors were asked to provide fingerprint samples to identify a whistleblower. The Royal College of Anaesthetists (RCoA) has urged the chief executive of West Suffolk hospital, Steve Dunn, who Hancock described as an “outstanding leader”, to take urgent action to improve the wellbeing of senior clinicians and “thereby the safety of patients”. In a strongly worded letter sent to Dunn in July, seen by the Guardian, the RCoA president, Prof Ravi Mahajan, reminded him that “undermining and bullying behaviour is unacceptable”. Following a three-day review of the hospital, Prof Mahajan’s letter said senior anaesthetists had complained about a “toxic management culture that risks impairing their ability to care safely for patients”. The incident, and other failings in patient safety, contributed to the hospital becoming the first ever to be relegated by Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspectors from “outstanding” to “requires improvement” in January. A spokesman for the trust said: “Ensuring our colleagues work in a supportive, safe environment is good for our staff and means better patient care, which is why we have done extensive work this year to act on feedback about our working culture, including taking action to address the concerns raised by the Royal College of Anaesthetists.” Read full story Source: The Guardian, 11 September 2020
  10. News Article
    A nurse in the US sued Louisville, Ky.-based Kindred Healthcare this week, alleging the organisation fired him in retaliation for raising patient safety concerns. Sean Kinnie worked as an intensive care unit nurse at Kindred Hospital-San Antonio. Mr Kinnie claims he was suspended twice and then fired after leaders at the 59-bed transitional care hospital learned he anonymously reported patient safety concerns to The Joint Commission in November 2019 and January. Mr Kinnie said issues related to inadequate staffing and unsanitary care environments put patients in "grave danger," according to the lawsuit. He also said the hospital created a culture in which employees were afraid to stand up for patients for fear of retaliation from management. In January, Mr Kinnie told the hospital's chief clinical officer Sharon Danieliewicz that he was the staff member who reported the patient safety concerns to The Joint Commission. Mr. Kinnie claims he faced increased scrutiny after this disclosure and was ultimately fired Feb. 24 for violating facility policy. Read full story Source: Becker's Hospital Review, 24 August 2020
  11. News Article
    Hospital nurses were told their "lives would be made hell" if they complained over conditions on a coronavirus ward, a union has claimed. Unison has raised a group grievance for 36 employees, most of them nurses, at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust. It said staff on the Queen's Medical Centre ward were not trained properly, faced bullying for raising concerns and denied PPE "as punishment". The trust said the allegations were "very troubling". The union said the staff, which included nurses, senior nurses and healthcare assistants, volunteered to work on the hospital's only ward dealing with end-of-life coronavirus patients. It claimed they were not given any specialist training or counselling for dealing with dying patients and their grieving relatives. An anonymous member of staff described it as "incredibly stressful". Another worker said a board with everyone's record of sickness was put on display in a break room to intimidate staff. Dave Ratchford from Unison said: "This is absolutely shocking stuff. We're talking about a very high-performing team who fell foul of a culture that permits bullying and fails to address it" "Staff were told their lives would be made hell for complaining." Read full story Source: BBC News, 21 July 2020
  12. News Article
    One in three trainee doctors in Australia have experienced or witnessed bullying, harassment or discrimination in the past 12 months, but just a third have reported it. That's according to a national survey of almost 10,000 trainee doctors released today by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). The results of the survey, co-developed by the Medical Board of Australia (MBA), send a "loud message" about bullying and harassment to those in the medical profession, said MBA chair Anne Tonkin. "It is incumbent on all of us to heed it," Dr Tonkin said. "We must do this if we are serious about improving the culture of medicine." "Bullying, harassment and discrimination are not good for patient safety, constructive learning or the culture of medicine," Dr Tonkin continued. "We must all redouble our efforts to strengthen professional behaviour and deal effectively with unacceptable behaviour." Read full story Source: ABC News, 10 February 2020
  13. News Article
    Five years after launching a plan to improve treatment of black and minority ethnic staff, NHS England data shows their experiences have got worse. Almost a third of black and minority ethnic staff in the health service have been bullied, harassed or abused by their own colleagues in the past year, according to “shameful” new data. Minority ethnic staff in the NHS have reported a worsening experience as employees across four key areas, in a blow to bosses at NHS England, five years after they launched a drive to improve race equality. Critics warned the experiences reported by BME staff raised questions over whether the health service was “institutionally racist” as experts criticised the NHS “tick box” approach and “showy but pointless interventions”. Read full story Source: The Independent, 18 February 2020
  14. News Article
    Regulators have uncovered multiple examples of patients being put at risk when junior doctors are left with tasks they are not trained for, lacking support, and facing bullying and inappropriate behaviour. Inspection teams have had to intervene – in some cases contacting senior trust staff – to ensure urgent issues are addressed, after the inspections. Health Education England oversees training nationally, which includes making the checks at trusts which have been put under “enhanced monitoring” by the professional regulator, the General Medical Council, because of concerns from trainees. HSJ has obtained and examined 20 reports, all produced since the beginning of 2019. Themes running through the reports included: Lack of support from consultants. Trainees struggled to contact consultants out of hours. Bullying and inappropriate behaviour was reported at several trusts. Inspectors found a reluctance to report concerns and/or a lack of knowledge of how to do it. Teaching was often of poor quality or cancelled – and sometimes trainees struggled to attend sessions because of how their shifts and rotations were scheduled. Trainees in several trusts reported IT problems, such as being locked out of systems so being unable to access clinical notes and blood tests, and IT systems taking up to 30 minutes to start up, sometimes delaying patient care. Read full story (paywalled) Source: HSJ, 29 June 2020
  15. Content Article
    Complaints from staff are not being heeded. Why is it that healthcare staff's opinions and pleas for their safety and the safety of patients do not matter? Here are just some examples of where safety has been compromised: Disposable gowns are being reused by keeping them in a room and then reusing after 3 days. There were no fit tests. Staff were informed by management that "one size fits all, no testers or kits available and no other trusts are doing it anyway". Only when the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced recently that fit tests were a legal requirement, then fit tests were given. I queried about fit checks only to discover that it was not part of the training and, therefore, staff were wearing masks without seals for three months before fit tests were introduced and even after fit tests! I taught my colleagues how to do fit checks via telephone. There was no processes in place at the hospital to aid staff navigation through the pandemic (no red or green areas, no donning or doffing stations, no system for ordering PPE if it ran out); it was very much carry on as normal. A hospital pathway was made one week ago, unsigned and not referenced by governance, and with no instructions on how to don and doff. Guidelines from the Association for Perioperative Practice (AFPP) and Public Health England (PHE) for induction and extubation are not being followed – only 5 minutes instead of 20 minutes. Guidelines state 5 minutes is only for laminar flow theatres. None of the theatres in this hospital have laminar flow. One of my colleagues said she was not happy to cover an ENT list because she is BAME and at moderate/high risk with underlying conditions. She had not been risk assessed and she felt that someone with lower or no risk could do the list. She was removed from the ENT list, told she would be reprimanded on return to work and asked to write a report on her unwillingness to help in treating patients. The list had delays and she was told if she had done the list it would not have suffered from delays. Just goes to show, management only care about the work and not the staff. It was only after the list, she was then risk assessed. Diathermy smoke evacuation is not being used as recommended. Diathermy is a surgical technique which uses heat from an electric current to cut tissue or seal bleeding vessels. Diathermy emissions can contain numerous toxic gases, particles and vapours and are usually invisible to the naked eye. Inhalation can adversely affect surgeons’ and theatre staff’s respiratory system. If staff get COVID-19 and die, they become a statistic and work goes on as usual. The examples listed above are all safety issues for patients and staff but, like me, my colleagues are being ignored and informed "it's a business!" when these safety concerns are raised at the hospital. The only difference is they are permanent staff and their shifts cannot be blocked whereas I was a locum nurse who found my shifts blocked after I spoke up. Why has it been allowed to carry on? Why is there no Freedom To Speak Up Guardian at the hospital? Why has nothing been done? We can all learn from each other and we all have a voice. Sir Francis said we need to "Speak Up For Change", but management continues to be reactive when we try to be proactive and initiate change. This has to stop! Actions needed We need unannounced inspections from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and HSE when we make reports to them. Every private hospital must have an infection control team and Freedom To Speak Up Guardian in post.
  16. News Article
    Doctors have warned that a “culture of fear” in the NHS may prevent life-saving lessons being learned about COVID-19 after a leading hospital consultant emailed scores of staff saying those responsible for “leaks” would be found and fired. Dr Daniel Martin OBE, head of intensive care for serious infectious diseases at the Royal Free hospital, emailed a report to colleagues at the peak of the pandemic with a note claiming that the trust would “track any leaks to the media” and then “offer you the chance to post your P45 on Facebook for all to see.” The email, which described journalists at one respected newspaper as “parasites”, was sent to dozens of nurses and junior doctors. It has been examined by Liberty Investigates, the investigative journalism unit of the civil rights group Liberty, and the Guardian, after being shared by a recipient who said they found the language “intimidating”. Whistleblowers UK, the non-profit group, said it had been made aware of the email by a separate individual who was also concerned about its contents. The Royal Free London trust said the email was “badly worded” and did not reflect trust policy. However, the trust said it was an open and transparent organisation that “does everything it can to encourage our staff to raise concerns and, if necessary, whistleblow”. Read full story Source: The Guardian, 22 June 2020
  17. News Article
    NHS staff should “feel free” to speak out about problems like protective equipment shortages, Matt Hancock has said, despite many having been warned not to do so. The health and social care secretary told the daily coronavirus briefing on 21 April that it’s “totally normal” for NHS staff to raise concerns about personal protective equipment shortages in their areas and said “transparency is important”. HSJ has heard from multiple senior local NHS leaders that they have been given strong warnings not to communicate externally about the COVID-19 response, with national officials seeking to closely grip information given to the media. There have been several reports of healthcare professionals having been “gagged” by hospitals and NHS bodies, with some reports of threats of disciplinary action if they raise concerns on social media or speak to journalists. Read full story Source: HSJ, 21 April 2020
  18. News Article
    Doctors in Britain are being “bullied and shamed” into treating patients with COVID-19 despite not having the masks, gowns and eyewear they need to protect themselves from the virus, frontline medics have said. Others are being told to hold their breath to avoid getting infected because of persistent shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) . The findings raise questions about how far a huge effort by NHS bosses, ministers and the military has succeeded in banishing previously widespread supply problems with PPE. “Lack of personal protective equipment continues to be a critical issue. It is heartbreaking to hear that some staff have been told to simply ‘hold their breath’ due to lack of masks,” said Dr Samantha Batt-Rawden, the president of the Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK). “Doctors are dying. Nurses are dying. We are devastated, and can no longer stand by and watch as more dedicated colleagues lose their life,” she said. Read full story Source: The Guardian, 7 April 2020
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