The Freedom to Speak Up review heard ‘harrowing’ evidence of how some whistleblowers have been treated, according to today’s report.
Over 600 people shared their experiences with Sir Robert Francis QC’s review, the “vast majority” of which were negative, it said.
“There were descriptions of what can only be described as a harrowing and isolating process with reprisals including counter allegations, disciplinary [action] and victimisation,” the report states.
One witness said their experience had been “horrific, protracted and detrimental to my family life, health and professional standing”.
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Another described how making protected disclosures “cost me my career” and left the staff member having to rely on “food from the food bank”.
They added: “I have been unable to obtain work in my own field since the NHS blacklisted me. I do not receive ‘unemployment benefits’. The bank repossessed my house because the NHS took my job, rendering me incapable of making my mortgage.”
One witness said they had been so depressed by their experience they had “often considered suicide”.
“I live in fear that the hospital will carry out its threat to sue me and take my home from me if I don’t pay their costs quickly,” they said.
A case study featured in the report describes how one person, who alerted their trust to procedures that were not being followed, endured “prolonged rants” and “personal abuse”.
The witness said some staff were bullied into falsifying records to hide failures to follow required standards.
When the trust eventually instigated a review into the person’s concerns, a report was circulated around his department, which though it did not name him, made clear he had raised the concerns.
He reported to the trust the “horrendous bullying” that he was subsequently subjected to, but no action was taken and he took sick leave for a short time and was eventually treated for severe anxiety.
In another case study, a nurse who raised concerns was “shouted at by two managers until reduced to tears”.
A later appraisal was “all criticism” and “no support”, and her mental health was questioned.
The report says that given the nature of the review “unsurprisingly… positive experiences of whistleblowing were a small minority”.
Those who did have positive experiences attributed it to working in an organisation with a culture of openness, a good knowledge of whistleblowing policies and procedures, feeling supported during the process, and maintaining good working relationships with colleagues.
One witness said: “I have raised concerns on many occasions and have had excellent results.
“I now see it as my role to use my experience and knowledge to support and advice colleagues.”
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'Harrowing' experience of NHS whistleblowers revealed