Doubts over protection for NHS whistle-blowers

Phil Brown
Phil Brown

A WHISTLE-BLOWER from South Tyneside says new laws to give fellow NHS workers more protection won’t work.

Hospitals have been ordered to appoint “guardian angels” to support workers who raise issues of concern.

Phil Brown knows first hand how difficult it can be to raise concerns over alleged wrongdoings. In 2005, he blew the whistle on failings in care given to residents of privately-owned Bamburgh Court Care Home, in South Shields.

During a process, which lasted more than five years, the 58-year-old said he received a “mixed reception” from his fellow workers.

The new support was called for after an investigation by Sir Robert Francis.

He warned that too often staff faced “bullying and being isolated” when they tried to speak out. He also said a new national officer should be appointed to help the guardians.

But Mr Brown, of Leafield Crescent, in South Shields, who now works at Monkwearmouth Hospital, in Sunderland, doesn’t believe this move will make much difference.

He said: “To be honest, I think this is nothing short of window dressing, and there is an election coming up.

“I don’t think these guardian angels will make a great deal of difference. While they will have good intentions, I think they will be a distraction.

“My view is that every clinician has a duty to report a failing in care and speak out. It’s their job and, if they don’t do it, then they should be fined or imprisoned.

“When I spoke out, I had mixed reception from my fellow workers. Some didn’t want much to do with me, so it is difficult.”

The Government has accepted all of Sir Robert’s recommendations.

His review has called for:

•A “Freedom to Speak Up Guardian” to be appointed in every NHS trust to support staff, particularly junior members;

•A national independent officer to help guardians when cases are going wrong;

•A new support scheme to help NHS staff who have found themselves out of a job as a result of raising concerns,

•Processes established at all trusts to make sure concerns are heard and investigated properly.

Mr Brown, who is standing as for the Independent Socialist Party for South Shields in May’s elections, believes that every trust across the county should appoint an independent health council.

He said: “If every trust brought in an independent health council then I think that would help whistle-blowers. As for the guardian angels, I’m not entirely convinced.”

South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust’s bosses say they welcome the new guidance.

Peter Davidson, trust chairman, said: “We welcome the new guidance, which is entirely in keeping with our long-established culture of openness, which encourages and supports staff in raising concerns.”

Twitter: @ShieldsGazVez