Letters

'The listening blank' gives good insight into the experiences of 'whistleblowers' - or rather, publicly concerned professionals - when they have the misfortune to uncover serious malpractice, abuse of children or vulnerable adults within their organisation.

Senior managers in local authorities, NHS organisations and the independent sector need to take heed of the dynamics in which they become enmeshed when an employee takes the giant step into the void upwards or outside the organisation to register their concerns.

By the time the employee takes this step, they are likely to have been traumatised by the enormity of their discovery and the response of colleagues and their managers. They may have experienced anger, disbelief and denial, and been told to be 'loyal'. The kneejerk reactions of the organisation and senior staff should not be underestimated.

The tendency to victimise and discredit the publicly concerned person should be further examined. Whistleblowing policies need amending to protect employees from retrospective claims of underperformance, encourage immediate access to solicitors, professional associations and whistleblowing charities and facilities for emotional support.

Otherwise, by moving up the line to senior management within the culpable organisation, the employee, probably distressed, will risk facing examination of their mental health, personality, performance and motivation.

They may feel traumatised by the attitudes of senior staff, who are anxious about their responsibility and possible negligence in a further enquiry.

The defensive reaction is to discredit and expel the messenger. Publicly concerned professionals are often described as being 'suspended from duty' or on 'sick leave' or 'forced to work abroard' when their disclosures eventually come to light. The term 'whistleblower' belittles them and should be deleted from policy; it is more serious than calling foul in a football match.

Guidelines should be issued for public-sector senior managers on how to hear the publicly concerned professional and what do to next.

Julia Wassell Labour spokesperson on social services Buckinghamshire county council