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NHS whistleblowers need safe ways to voice concern, says Unite

NHS "whistleblowers" need a safe way to expose bad practice without jeopardising their careers, says union Unite, following the case of nurse Margaret Haywood, who was struck off for secretly filming neglect of elderly patients in a hospital for BBC's Panorama programme.

Unite's National Officer for Health, Karen Reay, said that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) "appeared to be somewhat heavy handed" in striking Ms Haywood off the register.

She said: "There is a balance to be had between privacy and confidentiality of patients, and the wider issue being highlighted.

"We can't have a culture where whistleblowers feel intimated into not legitimately reporting wrongdoing and bad practice in the NHS. We need a safe environment for whistleblowers who feel that they can complain without losing their livelihood.

Karen Reay  added: "There appears to be a number of extenuating circumstances in the case of Margaret Haywood and the NMC could have imposed a lesser punishment than that of being struck off.

"The NMC exists as a regulatory body to protect patients and clients first and foremost, and not the alleged failings of members of the nursing profession in caring for the elderly."

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has launched a public petition in support of Ms Haywood.

Last Friday (17 April 2009), Chris Cox, Director of Legal Services at the RCN, said: "The RCN has been providing legal representation for Margaret Haywood from the outset and is very surprised at the severity of the punishment dealt out by the NMC panel.

"Our legal team are working with Margaret to explore the various legal options available to her in light of yesterday's judgment."



Related story: Nurse struck off over documentary

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"Whistle blowers should be protected, but one should seek legal advice from union & NMC. I also believe managment should be informed in writing about the lack of care to patients, before alerting family and the press." - Veronica Robertson-Benjamin, London

"My understanding and reading of the NMC case, this is not whisleblowing but a breach of confidentiality and the two are confused. It also appears that the nurse was possibly 'set up' and that is not the way to deal with these appalling conditions for patients, I think a lesser ruling would have been better but we have a code of conduct for a reason. I would whisleblow big time if such weaknesses existed but would go to management, supported by writing and if not action inform them I was going to the press and get relatives on my side." - Kathy French, London

"While the NMC has a duty and responsibility to protect patients and clients, it has an equal responsilibility to protect its own members from unjust punishments for bringing to light failures in standards in the sysytem. If the NMC encourages whistleblowing in order to uphold standards of the nursing profession and then turns around and punishes whistleblowers  such as Margaret, how can the same patients and clients have confidence in the Council if members have to be severely punished by striking them off the register? While confidentiality may have been breached in this case, a lesser punishment could be appropriate. NMC be considerate!" – "Concerned Patient", Birmingham

"There needs to be some system in place to protect whistleblowers, otherwise inappropriate practice/abuse will get worse than it already is. This decision by the NMC has done little to encourage others to speak out about their concerns and those providing inappropriate care continue to flourish in the system" – Monica Dennis, Wales