NHS whistle-blowers in Wales 'put off' complaining by policy

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Media captionThe British Medical Association called the policy complicated

Doctors believe the Welsh NHS's new whistle-blowing policy deters health staff from raising concerns about poor care, BBC Wales has learned.

The All Wales Whistle-blowing Policy was published in July after Health Minister Mark Drakeford said he wanted people to feel able to voice concerns.

But the British Medical Association called the policy complicated and could leave people confused or threatened.

The Welsh government said it would review it before the end of March 2014.

Mr Drakeford's decision to bring in the policy was part of a package of measures aimed at preventing any Welsh equivalent of the Stafford Hospital scandal in England, where hundreds of patients died as a result of neglect and abuse.

A public inquiry led by Robert Francis QC accused health service managers of putting corporate self-interest ahead of the interests of patients.

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Media captionThe chief executive of Public Concern at Work said it is unclear who the policy is aimed at

In July Mr Drakeford said he wanted a "culture of conversation" in the health service in Wales "where people feel able to voice concerns about care and know they are being heard".

But Phil Banfield, chair of the the British Medical Association's Welsh council, said the All Wales Whistle-blowing Policy focused on process rather than encouraging openness and transparency.

"That's a problem for us because it seems to threaten disciplinary action if the process is not followed," he told BBC Wales.

"It is our experience in different organisations that people who raise concerns fear for their future in the organisation. That is getting worse not better.

"The emphasis on following procedure and being disciplined if procedure is not followed really worries our members.

"We've had various members raise concerns over patient safety where they say they have talked to the management structure and the concerns have not been addressed.

"In fact they've been made to feel trivialised by raising the concerns."

Cathy James, chief executive of the campaigning charity Public Concern at Work, said: "I think the main concern is it's not clear who the policy is aimed at.

"The main thing with a whistle-blowing policy is to make it very, very clear that you want to hear from staff and that you will protect them when they raise that concern and that doesn't come across loud and clear in this policy.

"I'm also worried about the duty to raise concerns that's imposed in the policy.

"That causes more problems than it solves because you're putting people in a really difficult situation and that's not the way to encourage people to speak up."

The Welsh government said it was committed to NHS Wales' continued development of "an open and transparent culture, where staff feel confident to raise concerns locally as they occur".

It said the policy was developed in partnership with the NHS, trade unions and approved by the Welsh Partnership Forum.

A spokesperson said: "All health boards were asked to adopt the policy, which encourages staff to report concerns and details how an individual can raise concerns via a number of avenues.

"The Welsh government has previously instructed NHS organisations to ensure that whistle-blowing policies are in place to enable staff to raise concerns internally.

"Harassment or victimisation of anyone raising a genuine concern will not be tolerated."

A spokesman for Healthcare Inspectorate Wales welcomed the policy and said healthcare organisations need to do everything possible to listen to the concerns raised by their staff.

"Organisations should develop a culture which supports staff and ensures that positive action is taken where concerns are raised," he added.

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