Nurses ‘scared of consequences’ if they blow whistle about patient care

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More than half of nurses believe their concerns about patient care are being ignored, a survey says.

Research for the Nursing Times found that an NHS culture of discouraging staff from reporting problems, rather than supporting them, is putting patients at risk.

More than 800 nurses were questioned by the magazine, which revealed a culture of bullying, with staff scared they will be labelled as troublemakers if they highlight concerns about patient care.

Half of nurses who had raised concerns about the NHS said they were not dealt with properly, while a third felt they were likely to face negative consequences or be ignored as a result of raising concerns.

The survey revealed that 84 per cent of respondents had previously raised concerns about a colleague’s practice or attitude – of which 23 per cent said they had done so “several times” or “regularly”, and 23 per cent “at least once”.

But of those who had raised concerns, 52 per cent said there had been no appropriate outcome as a result of speaking out and a similar percentage said doing so had led to them suffering negative consequences.

Almost 30 per cent of nurses said being viewed as a troublemaker was the biggest barrier to speaking out, with inaction by managers cited by 23 per cent.

Eight out of 10 nurses said the ability to raise concerns in the NHS could be a lot better.

Nursing Times editor Jenni Middleton said: “I have personally spoken to nurses who, having raised concerns, have been sidelined and ostracised by their employers, bullied and marginalised by their colleagues – and end up feeling ashamed and guilty, as well as concerned that their careers are over.”

Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “It is extremely worrying that a large number of nurses still feel their concerns are going unheard, even worse that some have to live with the threat of reprisal.

“There needs to be greater transparency in the current system so that nurses feel supported when they do raise concerns.”

Dean Royles, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation, said: “There has been a lot of discussion in the media recently about whistleblowing in the NHS. Despite enormous efforts by employers to encourage staff, it is clear we need to do more to build their confidence that they can voice concerns in safety.