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BBC Casualty – A whistleblowing storyline

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The storytelling potential of whistleblowing is well established with examples spanning stage and screen, and even major Hollywood movies, in recent years.

As the UK’s leading whistleblowing charity we are regularly approached by the media, screenwriters and production teams to provide input into their programmes ensuring their work reflects reality.

The BBC ask for help

In the Spring of 2023 we were approached by BBC Casualty who were looking for help with a new whistleblowing story arc they were working on for the coming year. The show’s writers were at the planning stage and looking to discuss a whole range of ideas and plot points they were considering for the coming series.

Whistleblowing in the NHS is well documented, and we’ve seen numerous scandals impacting patient care over the past decade and more. From the Mid Staffs scandal to the more recent events at the Countess of Chester Hospital where babies were murdered and harmed by a nurse, NHS whistleblowing can be a matter of life and death. In all these cases, it becomes clear that someone working inside the organisation knew that something was wrong, but were too frightened to speak up, spoke up to the wrong person, or were simply ignored. With this context the Casualty team knew they had a wealth of material to draw upon for their proposed storyline and the potential for powerful drama.


In our initial meeting the programme team presented their ideas and a number of different potential plots were thrown out. We were able to explain how whistleblowing law works and talked through specific case studies and situations we were familiar with from callers to our Advice Line. We helped the Casualty team understand what was realistic, what could feasibly happen, and what the challenges have been for whistleblowers in the scenarios we presented.

After this meeting (and getting some exciting spoilers!) we started the very long process of script editing. Over the course of six months multiple scripts were sent back and forth between us and the BBC writers. We focused on providing realistic dialogue, typical legal terminology, and knowledge of the day-to-day processes within an NHS Trust. Casualty’s team of researchers and experts had already done a brilliant job bringing the world of Holby Hospital to life, but often they presented unrealistic outcomes for the whistleblower that didn’t correspond with what we were hearing from our callers.

Authentic storytelling

At Protect it was important our contributions felt authentic and real, and one way we achieved this was by including real world examples. Not entire stories of the treatment of whistleblowers, but moments and conversations our callers had lived through. For example, the whistleblower whose colleagues complained about the anonymous “snitch” without knowing he was standing right there. The junior nurse ambushed with a formal disciplinary meeting when her boss brought her in for a “chat”. The ostracizing by management and colleagues alike when a caller was suspected to be the whistleblower, but wasn’t, and so had no legal protections to call on.

The storyline was spread across six episodes and the identity of the whistleblower was a closely guarded secret, with the actor only learning of their involvement as they went to film the reveal scenes.

The "Breaking Point" storyline

A BBC Panorama-style documentary is released about the Emergency Department (ED), featuring commentary and secretly recorded footage, taken without anyone’s knowledge. Some staff worry they look incompetent and fear the reputation of the hospital has been threatened. The department’s clinical lead Patrick obsesses over which staff member took part in the documentary and initiates a witch-hunt to root out the mole. He accuses junior doctor Rash of being the whistleblower – which he denies in a dramatic argument. The real whistleblower, staff nurse Rida, recognises Rash is acting overwhelmed and under pressure and confides in him.

In a bid to protect Rida and save her from disciplinary action Rash resigns and takes the blame telling everyone he is the whistleblower. When Rida finds she rushes to Patrick and confesses all. But when Patrick threatens Rida with suspension, all the ED staff stand up one by one and confess to being the whistleblower in an act of solidarity (in a scene reminiscent of the iconic “I Spartacus”).

Management reactions

We know from our 30 years of experience talking to whistleblowers everyday how scary it can be to actually blow the whistle. . Its regularly reported that senior managers exhibit extreme reactionary behaviour and obstinate defensiveness when presented by whistleblowers’ concerns. In these Casualty episodes we were able to present a series of events that we regularly hear about from the whistleblowers we support. The character Rida, a staff nurse in the department, was scared and felt under fire after sharing her filmed footage. But the ire and suspicions were then misdirected to another member of staff who faced the heat of his superiors and the rest of the department. After learning the identity of the real whistleblower and motivated to protect them he resigned only for Rida to stand up reveal herself. In an act of unity, the entire department made an “I Spartacus” stand, all claiming to be the suspected whistleblower and thereby providing a cover of defence.

Fact or fiction

While this was fictional story, much of the content was based on fact – amalgamated from stories we hear from whistleblowers on the front line. Sadly, our data from 2023 tells us that three quarters of whistleblowers (73%), out of the more than three thousand calls we took last year, told us they faced victimisation or felt forced to resign after raising their whistleblowing concerns.

It is not always reassuring, or encouraging, to see how concerns are managed in the NHS. For every success story, there are many brave healthcare workers who never get justice they seek. However, by collaborating with the BBC on this storyline arc we hope that if even just one whistleblower can see and understand they are not alone, that they have never been alone, then that will be worthwhile.

We are always here to listen to those with concerns, to help them be heard. And at Holby Hospital at least, justice was done.

You can contact our Advice Line via email or by phone – and we can help you on how best to raise your whistleblowing concern, advising you on what protection you are entitled to and what you can do if things go wrong.

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