By Hugo Greenhalgh on 12 Mar 2015
Positive PR for whistleblowers can help solve NHS recruitment woes
Chair of the Health Select Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP spoke passionately about the importance of empowering professionals with the ability to share their opinions during last night’s Health Chat with Roy Lilley at the King’s Fund.
Referring to her early days as a backbencher, the Conservative member for Totnes said there was little advice given to people in her situation on how to “get their voice heard”.
A parallel could be drawn between this experience and that felt by health professionals who were moved to speak out as whistleblowers, and indeed Dr Wollaston spoke positively about this issue when it was raised later in the evening.
A whistleblower who had lost his job, and who claimed to have suffered £1million in lost earnings since, asked Dr Wollaston when action would be taken to assist people like himself in avoiding discrimination from prospective employers.
Dr Wollaston described the cultural change taking place to support whistleblowers as “painfully slow”. This follows last month’s report from Sir Robert Francis into whistleblowing in the NHS.
In order to help speed this process up, therefore, there is a significant PR challenge.
Last week a former NHS boss wrote a letter to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt demanding an apology and a “comparable” job.
It reads: “I continue to be blacklisted by the NHS despite a high-achieving career prior to raising concerns about patient safety.”
The fact that someone with such an impressive professional CV finds it impossible to get a relevant job is further evidence that there must be a level of sustained discrimination inherent towards whistleblowers.
Stories like this need to continue to be shared through media channels to help lessen the reluctance potential employers may have about taking on someone who has been a whistleblower.
Rather than being viewed as saboteurs of an organisation’s reputation, whistleblowers should be seen as “heroes”, according to Dr Wollaston, for having the courage to highlight problems. But there’s no doubt it will take time for that view to percolate throughout the NHS.
As someone who describes her early health professional career as a ‘dehumanising experience’, working 120-hour weeks as a junior doctor in the late 1980s and early 90s, it will understandably be a priority for Dr Wollaston to protect those who do want to shed light on their experience, no matter how negative.
At a time when GP recruitment is struggling, and faced with a bulge of impending retirement of Baby Boomer doctors, it is equally important that positive stories about the health professions are shared.
GP Online’s ‘Why I’m choosing general practice’ series profiles young doctors with an insight into their professional life, always packed with positive reasons for choosing the profession.
Although not as newsworthy as scandalous tales about poor working conditions or breaches of patients’ safety, viewpoint pieces such as these help to remind medical students and junior doctors choosing their specialism of the importance of the role GPs perform.
Health and Social Care Act 2012
When asked her opinion on the Health and Social Care Act 2012 that was driven through by former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, Dr Wollaston said: “Large scale reorganisation takes people’s eyes off the ball.”
Talking about her first few months as an MP, Dr Wollaston said the “mantra was that no one understood the NHS like Andrew Lansley”. She continued to say being a backbencher at the time felt like being “machine gunned by statistics”.
Dr Wollaston went on to praise Mr Lansley’s “extraordinary” ability to reel off facts and figures used to justify the health reforms, but in what could be read as an indirect slight to the former health secretary, added: “Just because you can relay the data doesn’t mean you know what an organisation needs”.
Although a vocal critic of the Lansley reforms, Dr Wollaston herself admitted that as a new MP in 2010 she had been thrown in the deep end when it came to parliamentary procedure and had struggled to get her voice heard.
This, combined with her real-world experience of having worked in the health service for decades, may explain the importance she now attaches to helping those within the health service who are prepared to tell inconvenient truths in spite of the consequences.