NI nurses fear ‘speaking out’ over poor care

Less than a year after nursing staff across the UK voiced fears about welfare because there was not enough staff to help patients feed themselves, it has emerged that almost two thirds of nurses in Northern Ireland have raised concerns about patient safety with their employers. New research published today has also indicated that in one of three of such cases, no subsequent action was taken by the hospitals’ management.

According to the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) study, 80% of nurses in the region were also concerned they could be victimised if they ‘blew the whistle’ on inappropriate patient care.

Nearly a fifth of nurses who responded to the RCN questionnaire said they had been ‘discouraged’ or told directly not to report concerns at their workplace and less than half felt confident that their employer would protect them if they spoke up.

The RCN today has therefore launched a new confidential phoneline to allow nurses to raise concerns if they believe that patient safety is being put at risk in their workplace.

Chief executive and General Secretary of the RCN, Dr Peter Carter, said: “We know that incident reports filled in by nurses were not acted upon with disastrous consequences.

“We also know that nurses have genuine concerns that they will be victimised if they speak up.”

The college is calling for significant changes to the way that employers respond to staff concerns to make sure that nurses and other healthcare workers are properly protected when speaking out about risks to patient safety.

The Department of Health’s Chief Nursing Officer Martin Bradley – himself a former top executive in the RCN in Northern Ireland – said nurses should raise any concerns they have.

“The safety of our patients in any of the Health and Social Care facilities in Northern Ireland is of paramount concern,” he said.

“If any person working within those facilities has any concerns about working practices or the environment then they have a duty to raise this with their employer.

“Each Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland has in place a ‘whistleblowing’ policy and they set out the process for raising concerns.

“I would encourage anyone with concerns to raise them at the earliest opportunity and they can do this verbally or in writing through their line manager or to any senior director in the organisation,” he said.

Last year, a shock report said that patients were at risk of malnutrition as there are not enough nurses to ensure they are properly fed, a poll says.

Nearly half of the 2,193 nurses quizzed by the Royal College of Nursing said there were not enough staff to help patients.

And 42% said they do not have enough time to make sure patients eat and drink properly.

Age Concern said in April 2008 that the findings were “shocking”.