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17-12-2012 | Article

Are you brave enough?

I have always admired people who speak out about serious shortcomings in their workplace. It takes guts and inner strength for them to stand up to powerful groups within their area of employment. Indeed, highlighting a genuine and important cause can even put your job at risk, with enormous potential costs to your personal life.

Doctors and healthcare professionals have experienced particular difficulties in this area, as was brought home to me when I read an interesting article recently in the British Medical Journal (BMJ; click here). The subtitle says it all: "Despite protection under the law, fear of retribution still deters those who would speak out." In fact, the article made depressing reading, as it highlighted the perils of whistleblowing.

For doctors, a potential risk to patient safety can convert them into a whistleblower, which requires courage, a belief that you are doing it for the right reasons and support from colleagues. Well, a new form of support is now available.

According to a recent Univadis medical news article, "the GMC has launched a new confidential helpline for doctors worried about patient safety" (click here). This telephone helpline "will enable doctors to seek advice and raise any serious concerns about patient safety that they feel they are unable to voice through local channels".

This is a significant step forwards in assisting whistleblowers who are trying to highlight failures that ultimately could lead to patient safety being compromised. However, this is just one small success in a long journey. The BMJ article reported: "Even under current circumstances whistleblowing has little to recommend it."

I hope that the environment in the NHS will change and that healthcare workers will be encouraged to raise awareness of genuine issues that could affect service provision and patient care. Staff should be protected from retribution and be confident enough to voice their concerns, with a better and safer service the desired outcome. Sadly, we are a long way off that. The culture and attitudes within the NHS have to change, but that is difficult in such an enormous and sprawling organisation. The creation of this helpline is a positive step in the right direction. We just need more initiatives.

Best wishes,

Harry

Dr Harry Brown, editor-in-chief Univadis

By Dr Harry Brown