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HCSA warns safety whistleblowers being targeted by Employer Playbook

HCSA has today warned that hospital doctors who speak up on safety are targeted by a systematic employer “playbook” designed to silence or remove them.

The warning came as the union launched a new briefing for doctors on the tactics used by bad employers, ranging from ostracising them to mounting fishing expeditions to support trumped-up disciplinary charges.

The document is based on intensive HCSA research among hospital doctors who have blown the whistle on safety — in line with their professional obligations — but then faced an employer backlash and even dismissal.

This revealed a strikingly consistent “playbook” being deployed against doctors who are often left completely unaware they are being targeted.

The guide details the tactics used and offers advice to doctors on how they can spot the signs and also what to do if things go wrong. One of the key messages is to contact their union before raising safety concerns for advice on how to minimise the risks of management victimisation.

Its publication was prompted by earlier findings of an HCSA survey which revealed widespread victimisation of doctors, with 70 percent of respondents saying it was not possible to raise patient safety concerns without career detriment. It painted a picture of unaccountable managers who are failing to address safety-critical concerns raised by staff on the ground.

HCSA is also calling for changes to culture and the law to doctors being targeted with disciplinary measures and other damage to their careers simply for speaking up.

HCSA President Dr Naru Narayanan said: “What was shocking about conducting this qualitative research is how the same patterns emerge again and again across the country when a doctor is targeted after speaking up on safety.

“Hospital doctors have a professional obligation to raise these concerns, yet too often find themselves on the receiving end of coordinated efforts to silence, ostracise or force out altogether those who do so. We hope this guide will help people to spot the signs and seek help to head off the worst before it happens.

“But it shouldn’t have to be this way. The current limited protections for whistleblowers and lack of consequences for bad employers creates a completely uneven playing field. That’s why HCSA is calling for a criminal law against victimising whistleblowers and other additional protections for NHS staff, including a new independent body to track and guard against the treatment we see all too often.

“Our message to those who have safety concerns is to raise them but get informed first, and be ready to contact your trade union at the earliest sign of trouble.”


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