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Margaret Haywood should have been praised, not pilloried

The case of nurse Margaret Haywood reveals the NHS's default approach to whistleblowers. To ignore, deny, obfuscate, bully and do anything but address the fundamental concerns raised, argues The Jobbing Doctor.

The case of nurse Margaret Haywood reveals the NHS's default approach to whistleblowers. To ignore, deny, obfuscate, bully and do anything but address the fundamental concerns raised, argues The Jobbing Doctor.

The issue of whistleblowing has come to the fore this week with the suspension of the registration of the nurse, Margaret Haywood, from her job in the Royal Sussex hospital. Her heinous act was to covertly film the appalling daily situation for many elderly patients in the hospital for a TV programme.

The panel of the Nursing and Midwifery Council decided that she was neglecting her patients whilst she was doing the filming.

This single episode neatly encapsulates many of the things that are inherently wrong with the NHS. It is difficult to underestimate the crass stupidity of this petty decision.

The panel were likely to be made up of senior nurses and midwives whose last contact with Jobbing Nursing was a very long time ago - they have long-since crossed the divide that separates the bedpan nurse from the clipboard nurse and have demonstrated a narrow adherence to their own bureaucratic interpretation of the rules whilst missing out the bigger picture: the fact that the profession they are regulating is in crisis.

The Jobbing Doctor's understanding of how whistleblowers are treated shows a uniformity of behaviour by those in charge.

1. Ignore the complaint. Try to trivialise or belittle it so that it is not seen as important, or just sit on it. As a manager you can promise to deal with it through the internal structures and pretend that it is being looked into: but always do nothing and hope it just fizzles out.

2. Kick the complaint into the long grass. Take it through the most longwinded processes as possible and refer the general issue to as many internal departments as possible so you are always waiting a response from somebody else.

3. Try to bully the complainant.Tell them that it will affect their career, they will not get a reference or promotion. Undermine the complainant, and - this is vital - isolate them from their colleagues so they are being seen as a rogue element, and it is not the fault of the system, but the complainant.

4. Concoct a counter-charge against the complainant and move it to a remoter body. Say that you are worried about their mental health, or suggest that they are publicity seekers or you always had concerns about them, or imply that they are doing this as a grudge against persons unknown.

5. Always report them on a narrow interpretation of what they have done. You are more likely to win by doing this.

6. You are within your rights to try and dig up as much dirt as possible about the complainant. This allows you to suggest they are not good at their job.

If you follow these simple rules then you are likely to be able to rid yourself of the whistleblower - a kind of Thomas a Becket response of ‘who will rid me of this troublesome nurse?'

What Margaret Haywood has done has been to highlight what is going on in many NHS hospitals. The number of hands-on nurses is insufficient to do the jobs they are expected to do.

She is doing for the patients what people like the panel of the Nursing and Midwifery Council or the Government's Chief Nurse are failing to do, which is to point out that nursing is a people focussed profession and effective nursing needs properly qualified people to do it properly. Stories reach Jobbing Doctor about wards of 30 patients being run by two qualified nurses and two health care assistants.

It is simply not good enough.

But don't strike Margaret off. Praise her.

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