The latest revelations to come out of the Gosport scandal are truly shocking. There should be a public inquiry into the events, not just so there is justice for the families affected but so that the NHS can learn from what happened as it is still relevant today. It is unfortunately the case that the NHS had, and still does have, serious deficiencies when it comes to listening to patients, their families and staff who have concerns about care, and often inflicts unfair retaliation against those staff who whistleblow.
This year we have seen some small success on the whistleblowing issue with Chris Day’s victory over Health Education England. HEE finally admitted they are an employer of Junior Doctors for the purposes of whistleblowing protection.
But Chris Day’s case is ongoing, and we can’t assume any outcome at this stage. However, what we do know regarding the bigger picture of whistleblowing is that many staff in the NHS still fear speaking out.
This is something that has to change.
But it can only change with substantive procedures in place to support those who raise concerns or blow the whistle. Hunt’s ‘National Guardian’s Office’ may be a step in the right direction, but it still fails to inspire confidence in NHS staff.
There is also another issue surrounding this current debate.
Jeremy Hunt has made patient safety his mantra since he took up the post of Health Secretary. On the face of it patient safety is a slogan that everyone can agree is important and that we should always try to protect. But what gets overlooked in Hunt’s discourse on patient safety is that under his and the Conservatives watch the NHS has become, in some respects, more unsafe.
Trolley waits are a good indication of this. As a result of cuts to NHS and social care spending we have seen a continued increase in people who need hospital admission waiting for more than four hours in A+E and hospital corridors due to lack of beds. This is a real risk to patient safety.
The government’s policies are exacerbating the issue by putting NHS staff into more and more situations where they’re afraid to speak out. Understaffing, by putting staff under pressure, increases risk to patients. This has undoubtedly played a part in the recruitment and retention crisis we are witnessing today. There are nearly 100,000 staff vacancies in the NHS and no effective workforce planning to remedy this.
Without both a strong institutional response to patient and staff concerns, cast iron whistleblowing protection and a competent government that truly puts patient safety first by adequately funding the health service and social care, we may, in the future, see more Gosport-esque scandals.