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Review condemns treatment of trust staff who blew whistle on poor care

BMJ 2018; 360 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k653 (Published 09 February 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;360:k653

“Treatment” of those who blow the whistle.

The independent review shaming a NHS trust for “bullying and harassing” staff who raised concerns about poor care and swingeing staffing cuts is counterproductive.(1)

First of all, the bar must be raised. Has the NHS ever commended those who dare to blow the whistle? Has the Department of Health acknowledged Stephen Bolsin for his crusade leading to the implementation of clinical governance? His first awards came from aboard: 1998 Civil Justice Award (Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association) and 1999 Lambie-Dew Medal and Oration (University of Sydney). No reward is also bullying whistleblowers!

Second, scapegoating is always useless, even the trust.(1) Indeed, the worst are not the guys you whistle on, the worst are those around you who have known and accepted the state of affairs for too long. These latter are numerous, they are your peers, they cannot accept that their lack of action could be disclosed.(2)

The Employment Rights Act (1996) did not protect Stephen Bolsin from leaving England for Australia after he successfully disclosed the Bristol Royal Infirmary case. The United Kingdom has now the most protective legal framework for whistleblowers in Europe: the act was amended as the Public Interest Disclosure Act in 1998, and the Journal played a major role in supporting the Libel Reform Campaign--formed by Sense about Science, Index on Censorship, and English PEN.(3) In contrast, in France, blowing the whistle while a civil servant is a criminal offence ( https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/affichTexteArticle.do;jsessionid=AEA190D6... ). Proctecting and promoting whistleblowers is far from being deep in the European culture in contrast to the American one.

Last, I’m puzzled by the term “treatment”.(1) However if anyone is caring for whistleblowers, it is the Journal: A Pubmed search among core clinical journals with “whistleblowers” retrieved 189 hits, 115 from The BMJ.

1 Iacobucci G. Review condemns treatment of trust staff who blew whistle on poor care. BMJ 2018;360:k653

2 Braillon A. Whistleblowing: neither reward, nor protection. J Public Health Policy 2010 Jul;31:278-9.

3 Dyer C. Defamation bill gives defence of qualified privilege to peer reviewed journal articles. BMJ 2013;346:f2691.

Competing interests: No competing interests

13 February 2018
alain braillon
senior consultant
University hospital. 80000 Amiens. France