Chris Lancelot: Whistle-blowing is bad for your health

Spare a thought for nurse Margaret Haywood who was struck off for secretly filming the appalling level of patient care at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton.

She had previously tried to bring the problem to the attention of managers without success.

The conditions she revealed - absence of care plans, patients left untoileted or dying on their own - ultimately led to a public apology from the trust. Unfortunately, the legal protection for whistle-blowers didn't stop Ms Haywood being charged with breaching patient confidentiality. (Apparently she should have asked permission of patients and managers before filming.)

The DoH has washed its hands of the situation, saying that there are established procedures for raising complaints. But what happens if managers take no notice?

Yet again this emphasises the necessity of a 'GMC for NHS managers' or an NHS Managerial Course (NHMC). As regular readers will know, this is something I have advocated before (GP, 3 April).

Currently no one can force managers to listen. But with a body regulating managers, every manager would know that ignoring a valid complaint could lead to their being disciplined by a body with real teeth.

No longer could managers hide behind weasel words like 'corporate responsibility': the NHMC would demand evidence that the manager had both acknowledged the problem and referred it upwards.

It is significant that the CEO of Sussex hospital was 'shocked' by the conditions Ms Haywood's filming revealed. Wasn't he talking to his junior managers?

NHS managers are curiously isolated from the clinical situations for which they are responsible. In future, they should be held accountable for overall clinical standards, and for the effective reporting that makes these attainable.

I look forward to the day when clinicians and the public alike can say: 'This situation is harming patients: resolve it or I will report you to the NHMC.' No longer would doctors or nurses like Margaret Haywood have to resort to public whistle-blowing out of sheer frustration with managerial deafness.

Please sign the RCN petition to have her reinstated: www.gopetition.com/online/27030.html

Dr Lancelot is a GP from Lancashire.

Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com

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