Deborah Kirklin: Mid Staffs—would you have been a whistleblower?

deborahkirklinThe latest Medical Humanities poll asks readers a simple but searching question: if you witnessed unaddressed failings in local healthcare provision, would you feel confident and secure enough to whistle blow?

Inspired by a series of on-going scandals about the care, or rather lack thereof, provided to some NHS patients, the poll is linked to an editorial asking how it is sometimes possible for appalling care to become habitual and taken for granted.

As the inquiry report makes clear, there were many warning signs about what was happening in Mid Staffs, but because of “an engrained culture of tolerance of poor standards, a focus on finance and targets, denial of concerns, and an isolation from practice elsewhere,” as well as professional disengagement whereby, “clinicians did not pursue management with any vigour with concerns they may have had,” nothing was done to improve the situation.

Our polls asks what you believe you would do, in a similar situation. So far, up to a third of respondents have said that that would not feel able to whistleblow, but the numbers are small. Which is why we’re inviting BMJ readers to tell us what they think.

For the majority of healthcare professionals, working within organisations that deliver high quality healthcare, these events and practices will feel far removed from their own. It might be comforting, therefore, to dismiss failings in Mid Staffs as something terrible, but alien, but it would be a mistake to do so.

Instead, each and everyone of us, working in health and social care, needs to play an active role in upholding our duty of care by subjecting what we do, and why, to a more critical gaze. But as our early findings suggest, doing so is never going to be easy option.

Deborah Kirklin is a family physician and a teacher at University College London. She used to be editor of the BMJ journal Medical Humanities.