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Press statement: Culture of silence and retribution a threat to NHS safety

HCSA has issued the following press statement on reports that safety concerns raised by hospital doctors were suppressed by managers.

HCSA President Dr Naru Narayanan said:

“It’s an appalling reminder of a culture which persists today in some parts of our NHS despite the many, many warnings we’ve had over the years.

“All too often whistle-blowers are treated by bad employers like the problem and find themselves on the receiving end of threats and bullying to remain silent.

“Speaking up can end careers. If you are not white it’s an even bigger risk. It’s an act of bravery when it should just be the cultural norm.

“People find themselves at the centre of witch-hunts and placed on disciplinaries. This fuels a culture of silence which can have terrible consequences for patients.

“We’ve had report after report identifying the lack of an open culture where concerns can be raised without repercussions. It’s likely any investigation into the Letby case will find the same.

“NHS leaders know, after the Francis inquiry into deaths at Mid-Staffs, what needs to be done. It’s absolutely shameful that so many years on we are talking about the same things and more lives have been lost.

“Whistleblowing policies, freedom to speak up guardians, all of these things are just lip service in a lot of places. The system needs to be a reality not just a tick-box exercise.

“What we need now is a review by every Trust to make sure that the systems which should be in place are really in place. We need to focus on safe staffing levels. We need to reform the disciplinary system to protect those who speak up from retribution later down the line.

“No-one else should face harm because managers are more interested in suppressing trouble and protecting the Trust’s reputation than they are in delivering the safe, open culture that they are meant to have signed up to.”