My thoughts today are with the women that were fundamentally abused by Ian Paterson and how this went for the length of time it did. For me there is a direct and distinct comparison to Winterbourne View; Jimmy Saville; and the Oxfam Scandal, the uncovering of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church or perhaps within sport. Why…because the one thing that all these horrific stories have in common is that ‘people knew it was going on’ and did not challenge it or speak out!!

According to the English Collins dictionary, Whistle-blowing is the act of telling the authorities or the public that the organisation you are working for is doing something immoral or illegal.

Then why with such a simple explanation do people in general not feel confident to tell the authorities or their manager? There are Government websites and national help lines in place all to encourage people to speak out but still these abuses of power are permitted to go on.  

In terms of safeguarding it is expected that whistle blowing forms part of your policy and procedures in any sector. However, in the case of Ian Paterson, health professionals did know or had concerns but didn’t step up to the mark and challenge or report him. Three health professionals have been reported to their professional bodies for disciplinary action as a result of not sharing concerns.

What is it that puts professionals or volunteers in a position of fear, denial or ignorance? Is the current legislation or the way we refer to whistle blowing fit for purpose and should it be reviewed? I believe that it has go beyond what is written in your policy and procedure, it needs to be part of everyday conversations in the work place, it has to be part of a culture of normalised behaviours so we feel able to challenge poor practise and the abuse of others whatever job title someone has! People should feel they will be believed and supported the same way as when individuals disclose personal abuse.  I urge you to discuss this in your team meetings as a standard agenda item, if you are a manager encourage a open door approach, find innovative ways such as an anonymity post box where people can post their concerns, re visit how information is shared between staff and external agencies, if you ‘feel’ something is not right do not ignore it tell someone.

There could be a conversation needed about whether failure to raise issues or concerns by health or care professionals should be classed as a criminal offence or disciplinary action. This is in terms of failure to alert when they witness safeguarding concerns or dangerous practice. I know some would say this may be hard to prove and evidence. So would this be a further shock tactic that would drive more fear and danger underground. I do not have all the answers but surely there is yet again now more reason to have these conversations about how we continue to protect people and stop or infringe on these professionals that take advantage of their position.

As a safeguarding expert I will always be committed to the agenda of finding new processes and driving organisational cultures to be transparent and safer.

NHS National Whistle blowing helpline:

Telephone: 0300 311 22 33
General Post (including complaints): NHS England, PO Box 16738, Redditch, B97 9PT British Sign Language (BSL):  If you use BSL, you can to talk to us via a video call to a BSL interpreter. Visit NHS England’s BSL Service.

Review of the Response of Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust to Concerns about Mr Ian Paterson’s Surgical Practice; Lessons to be Learned; and Recommendations – Professor Sir Ian Kennedy

Independent Report – The Right Reverend Graham James