“We welcome the long awaited West Suffolk Review – and agree the intimidating witch hunt of a whistleblower was, as the review says, ‘nothing short of disastrous, not only for the staff directly caught up in the process, but for other members of the Trust’s staff, the working environment more generally, and for the Trust’s reputation internally and externally.’
The report found that the Trust should have considered why a member of their staff felt it necessary to go external with their concerns about a particular member of staff who had been self-medicating. They should have focused on the message, not the messenger via a “flawed and intimidating process” of examining handwriting and asking for fingerprints. This “went against any semblance of an open culture in which staff were free to raise concerns.”
There was a catalogue of failures in listening to concerns. The reprisals that a doctor suffered – including a meeting about issues about her performance (later dropped by the trust) showed that the Freedom to Speak Up process was ineffective and did not comply with the National Guidance.
Protect’s Head of Policy, Andrew Pepper-Parson said:
“At Protect, we fully agree had the management focus been upon the question of why rather than who, it would have helped to foster a culture where those with a patient safety concern felt free to express it through an appropriate channel.
“The report by Christine Outram reveals a shocking approach, both to the attempt to unmask an anonymous whistleblower, and to the treatment of a doctor trying to use the Speaking Up process to raise her concerns.
“There are clearly lessons here for other trusts. When staff concerns about a serious incident do not receive adequate investigation, it is unsurprising that they will continue to raise those concerns. When insufficient information is fed back to staff about what action the Trust had taken in response, then it is unsurprising that a cover-up is suspected.
“We want to encourage staff to speak up whenever they fear for patient safety, and more needs to be done to ensure that management hear the message, rather than shoot the messenger.”