NHS doctors scared to blow the whistle?


The news that NHS doctors are now, generally speaking, too scared of their managers to blow the whistle on dangerous care should come as no surprise to anyone.

These days, the figures are worryingly high – 28 percent of nearly 1,690 doctors wouldn’t feel confident enough to whistle blow, according to a BMA survey. That’s up from just 10 percent of 7,900 of them who were polled in 2018, less than 10 years ago.

Three out of five of them said they might not raise concerns because they were ‘afraid’ that they or colleagues could be “unfairly blamed or suffer adverse consequences”.

Mid-Staffs whistleblowers were overwhelmed by the rage of patient groups who thought they were undermining their hospital. My friend, Bernie Rochford, had a similar experience – too scared to be at work alone or off work either, when she was called constantly by managers and told that she must tell them where she was, and hand over contact details for whoever she was with.

I tell her story in my book Tickbox, and what happened when she discovered the South London Trust she worked for had no idea where their patients were who had been sent outside the area for treatment.

All those boxes ticked to support whistleblowers and patients, for the good of the NHS, and nobody helped. There were processes in place, but in practice those processes meant to next to nothing. Tickboxes and hoops to gain CCG status while masking the failures in healthcare and commissioning.

Spare a moment to think about poor old Richard Boyle (no relation, as far as I know), an Australian tax official who blew the whistle on some of the bullying practices of the Australian Taxation Office.

He did it under the National Government, who arrested him but, when Labor took over a few months later, they never changed anything. He is due to go on trial in September.

Last week, a Court of Appeal rejected Boyle’s appeal, ruling that his conduct in blowing the whistle was outside the scope of the immunity for whistleblowers in the Public Interest Disclosure Act.

The problem is that, even when you have a public interest defence to encourage whistleblowers – and Australia is some way ahead of us on this – you find that, when it comes to the point, politicians can’t forgive anyone for blowing the whistle on their watch.

And when all the old laws calling for secrecy are still in place, they can turn out to trump the newer law giving rights to whistleblowers – as they have in Australia.

Which is one way the tickbox monster (the Tickbox book is now down to just £1.99 on kindle!) just carried on – despite all our best efforts.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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