Blackpool hospital whistle-blowers feared they would be victimised and that there was ‘no point’ speaking up

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The National Guardian’s Office found that black and ethnic minority employees had a worse experience than white colleagues when speaking up about concerns

 

Blackpool Victoria Hospital
Blackpool Victoria Hospital

Staff at Blackpool’s hospital trust reported feeling as if there was “no point” in whistle-blowing and reported being bullied as a result of raising concerns, a damning report has revealed.

The National Guardian’s Office, which oversees and regulates the Freedom To Speak Up health system, launched an investigation at the end of last year after receiving information which indicated that a speaking up case may have not been handled in line with good practice at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The information also suggested black and minority ethnic workers had potentially worse experiences when speaking up compared to their white colleagues.

The investigation followed a Care Quality Commission at the trust in June 2019 which led to a number of improvements being requested by NHS England Improvement including leadership changes.

The CQC inspection found that staff did not always feel respected, valued or appreciated and staff said that they would not speak up. Those who had spoken up reported they had not been taken seriously, supported or treated with respect and some groups of workers, including black and ethnic minority workers, felt ignored and disenfranchised.

In its report, published this month, the National Guardian’s Office revealed its investigation found:

  • Most workers we spoke to described long-standing issues with the speaking up culture.
  • Speaking up had not always been responded to in accordance with good practice
  • Speaking up training had variable reach and uptake and was not always inline with good practice
  • Some groups of workers faced barriers to speaking up not necessarily experienced by other workers.

One employee told inspectors: “I wanted to speak up about certain things, but I was not confident … these would be properly escalated (and) whether I will be victimised.” The NGO spoke to a number of employees who felt there was “no point in speaking up”.

Another worker alleged that their identity was disclosed to the person about whom they had spoken up, breaching their confidentiality. The report also revealed that one trust employee said a derogatory remark had been made against them when they spoke up. They also alleged that they were told that they could be performance managed and that statements could be obtained against them.

As a result, the NGO has issued the trust with 21 recommendations, which must be implemented within three months as well as a further 11 within nine months, one recommendation within nine months and an additional four within 12 months.

The trust’s chief executive, Trish Armstrong-Child who took on her role in September 2021, said: “I am a huge supporter in Freedom to Speak Up and the role of the National Guardian’s Office, working together with our local guardian team, with leaders in the Trust and the system as a whole, to create a more open and transparent culture across the NHS for the benefit of everyone.

Trish Armstrong-Child
Trish Armstrong-Child (Image: Trish Armstrong-Child)

“This report and its recommendations date back to a review around 12 months ago and there is evidence to demonstrate that we have made great progress. However, we recognise there is always more that we can do.

“As we mark and celebrate National Freedom to Speak Up month I want to add my voice and encouragement to this year’s theme: ‘Speak up, listen up and follow up’.

“All colleagues in Blackpool Teaching Hospitals are encouraged to make their pledge to speak up in any way they feel comfortable about anything at all that is bothering them – and know processes are in place to support you.

“In return, my promise and commitment as new Chief Executive is that myself, the Trust Board as a whole and senior leaders across the organisation will listen up and follow up. Between us I am looking forward to being part of an organisation that values and actively encourages people to raise issues and help to resolve them. I recognise our staff are our greatest asset.”