NHS Wales has frequently neglected its duty to protect patients, to maintain health environments in which none are unsafe or at risk of harm. From 2008 onwards, I witnessed a slow decline in safety for my own patients. In 2013, I began whistleblowing, reporting failings to my MP. Before long, I was a victim of workplace harassment, which included the use of fake email evidence for a malpractice investigation and a stint in NHS professional solitary confinement.
Now I campaign with DoNoHarmWales, a support group for Welsh whistleblowing victims like me, for openness and a safe ‘speak up’ culture within NHS Wales. Here is my hard-won advice to those working within NHS Wales and wanting to raise concerns regarding patient safety or other matters. This advice may also be useful to those whistleblowing within other kinds of workplaces.
Whistleblowing self-help guide
So you want to blow the whistle? Following this whistleblowing guide might help to soften or reduce the blows that may result.
1. If you value your career, be careful. Don’t assume that the system will play fair at any level. It almost definitely won’t stick to the rules.
2. Speak to veteran whistleblowers (also known as whistleblowing victims) or find them online. Ideally, contact people who whistleblew within your own organisation or system, and seek their support and advice.
3. Don’t assume that support organisations such as Protect, formerly known as Public Concern At Work, fully understand the system in your case. When it comes to Wales, for example, it may be more England-focussed and not grasp your specific whistleblowing situation within a devolved health system.
4. Don’t assume that whistleblowing law is robust or adequate for your needs and protection. It is there to protect the employer and the system. There are too many whistleblowing victims out there to argue otherwise.
5. Raising concerns in Wales is especially problematic, as its system is particularly flawed and poorly thought out. The recently released Welsh Government guidance Speaking Up Safely: A Framework for the NHS in Wales was flawed at every level, in the opinion of DoNoHarmWales, not providing even a basic universal legal speak up framework.
6. As a member of DoNoHarmWales, this is our group’s advice. If you really must whistleblow, move to another job elsewhere – ideally out of your region – and start your whistleblowing retrospectively. In that way, you may be able to better protect your career and your patients.
7. If you have already whistleblown, you are now fighting for your career. Consider changing jobs as soon as possible. Don’t hang around to watch the fireworks.
8. If you are about to retire, then please do start whistleblowing. It probably won’t make much or any difference, but it will relieve your working colleagues of the burden and the strain on your conscience.
9. Learn this mantra: ‘grade trumps truth’. Try to repeat it often; it will help you to make sense of what’s happening to you.
10. Remember this last point, because it’s probably key to realistically managing your expectations. It’s likely that nothing is going to be done with your concerns. There will almost certainly be no big investigation, nor any real change to the system. Whistleblowing may even just generate a big cover up.
With that, I wish all you wannabe whistleblowers the very best of luck and every success. If nothing else, you will have a clearer conscience. I hope that you see more change and justice than I did, and that my hard-won whistleblowing knowledge helps you.