Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Whistle Blowers - Brave or Trouble Makers?

I’ve just been reading a harrowing story in the Daily Mail about abuse of elderly patients in a nursing home. That is a terrible indictment of staff supposedly offering care for these vulnerable people.

Here is an extract from the Daily Mail story:

‘Elderly patients were tied to beds to stop them moving around and others were lying in their own filth. The frail and vulnerable were being bullied by more aggressive residents and there was food rotting on dirty work surfaces. All this in a home staffed by trained nurses.’

What is arguably even worse is that the Nurse (Philip Brown) who ‘blew the whistle’ on this abuse to the appropriate authorities had to wait 7 years to see action taken against those he named as responsible for the abuse.

Although the care business is a very emotive area the act of ‘whistle blowing’ is important in all businesses. Those who ‘blow the whistle’ are described in my experience as either brave or trouble makers. I prefer the word 'brave.'

Happily I’ve never had to be the whistle blower in any situation in my career which probably means that I have been fortunate enough to work with and around people who have integrity and professionalism. I am very pleased about that.

If ever I am faced by unethical practices I hope and believe I would have no hesitation in blowing the whistle. My feeling is most of us would do that and accept the consequences, however personally damaging those consequences can be - like being ostracised by colleagues and being labelled a trouble maker thus restricting future employment opportunities.

What is your view on whistle blowing?


Richard Lipscombe said...

I have had the misfortune to see many whistle blowers (those who take their case to the press) working on clients sites and in my public service career... I never saw one that was 'brave' and I never saw one that I would want to invite home for dinner... The problem is this is a complex issue - there is no Simplicity in a matter like this as I have observed... Most whistle blowers who go public are simply ideologues - people who want things done their way and only their way... The real and the effective 'whistleblowers' and I have seen many good examples of such unselfish or selfless behaviour - these are people to be admired as they stand up to the bullies in the system and call them out! They change the system and eradicate the bullies who are frankly never up to the job anyway... The example you cite here does not give me enough information to truly assess what is going on but it seems, at face value at least, like they needed someone, anyone, with some guts and spirit to change the system by standing up to the bullies who live in the shadows and prey on the weak and helpless in our society - that is both the patients and the staff...

Anonymous said...

Great question! I would certainly like to think I had the courage to do so and am 100 per cent confident that if the situation involved the lives and safety of people I would. But I was thinking about the so called "protection" programs that companies have that "promise" no retribution or retaliation. Or company codes of conduct that "require" one to report anyone or anything or be subject to discipline themselves. Having this type of a process in place is a good thing...if administered in the way it's advertised. I have however seen folks penalized for using them or the victims of being reported for no reason other than it is a way that someone to cause them problems...abuse is easy when the company is both the judge and jury.

I know I would do something. I guess the circumstances would dictate the process I would use. It's amazing what you can get done when you play the game by their rules,,,and they know you know the rules!

Trevor Gay said...

Richard - I agree that the issues of whistle blowing can often be more complicated than they may appear on face value. In this case the Nurse reported abuse - by any rules of common decency - of frail older people. I do understand what you mean about whistle blowers going to the press. In my experience sometimes the person who is the whistle blower is seeking some self adulation. Nevertheless I think blowing the whistle on any ‘less than professional behaviour’ has to be a good thing – otherwise by ignoring it we are surely condoning it.

Dave – I like your take on the company being judge and the jury. I am all for truly independent investigation. For instance when Doctors investigate complaints against Doctors it never feels open and transparent enough to me. Even it may only be a ‘perception’ thing the public generally tends to think about ‘old boys networks.’ I vote for independent scrutiny every time with all its warts and wrinkles.

Anonymous said...

We have some pretty strict laws in the US that prohibit any kind of retribution against whistle blowers. This has encouraged people to come forward without fear of intimidation. It has also encouraged some individuals to claim their personal greivances as corporate wrongdoing. So far, it appears the courts have been pretty fair figuring out which is which.

Trevor Gay said...

That's encouraging Mike - I'm not sure of the legal position in the UK here but I do know in the NHS whistle blowing is positively encouraged.

One Doctor who blew the whistle on what he perceived as poor practice ended up not being able to get a job in the UK. Last I heard he was working in New Zeeland.

The whistle blowing he did led to the discovery of one of the major scandals ever in British healthcare which in turn led to the Bristol Childrens Heart Surgery Inquiry

Richard Lipscombe said...

Trevor "we" are not condoning the bad treatment of people in hospitals - you have a great way of twisting a persons point of view (in this case mine) so that you can make some vague point of your own... Let me be clear I do not condone the horrific treatment of patients (or nurses on the front line for that matter) that is being reported. It is just that I do not condone the 'whistle blowing' act or the 'whistle blower' either... What I spent a great deal of my life in the public service doing was putting procedures (I helped to create the first admin/judicial process for hearing complaints against Customs Officials by fellow workers and/or the public in my country - perhaps it was the first in the world because we had no guides out there to go bye) in place whereby people could change this sort of brutal behaviour towards staff and public... I do not like bullies! This nursing regime is probably being run by bullies so it is brutal to the patients and it is brutal to the staff who are subjected to such working conditions... Why doesn't one of your 'front liners' actually stand up and change this system... you are always telling us about front liners and Simplicity well here is case where there is a simple fix have one (or even a group of your front liners) show the courage of their convictions and stand up to the bullies - stand up to them and clean up this system for themselves their workmates and most of all for the patients....

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Richard – I am unaware that I try to ‘twist’ anyone’s point of view. I greatly value and respect every contribution to my Blog including those who disagree with me. I know many people don't agree with my point of view and that is great because disagreement is the core of effective communication. I do not consider myself intelligent enough, arrogant enough or rude enough to impose ‘my view’ on someone who has a different view.

I love to express my own view and in this case if people do not report abuse then I maintain they are condoning it.

Procedures are excellent Richard - you know that we agree on that matter but procedures are only effective if people feel comfortable working within them and if they work. People who do not report abuse may have no faith in procedures.

In respect of my passion for front liners I would say front line employees are usually the people who do report these abuses to more senior people and the procedure sometimes gets stuck at that point or even beyond that level. In this case for instance it took 7 years to finally see the people responsible for the abuse to get their just deserts.

Front line employees who feel they will be supported by their seniors will have no hesitation in reporting abuse and confronting it head on with the bullies.

I am with you 100% Richard on bullies – they are actually cowards – we all know that and the great news is there are not many of them in the care business in my experience.

I want to a system that supports front line employees and managers to obliterate bullying completely thus facilitating first class care for patients.

Anonymous said...

"Why doesn't one of your 'front liners' actually stand up and change this system."

I know...poor leadership! they managers or workers...external customers and suppliers all have very useful and great information that can dramatically improve product and service design and delivery. While they have vast amounts of knowledge, they lack the authority, autonomy, and resources to act on it and implement it. That is something the higher level "managers" cling to and control. It's what they do and the reason their positions exist. They are also usually the ones who are the reason companies need Ethics Hotlines and Whistle blowers processes. This is the level where the complaints/feedback is initially received and never acted on for reasons to numerous to list.

How many companies have "credible" and multiple processes and forums to collect, analyze, and incorporate front liners directly...or at least their input...into planning and decision making processes? Credible is the operative word...a "suggestion box" and no timely feedback on the disposition of a person's suggestion hardly qualifies. How many companies systematically evaluate and improve the effectiveness of their employee feedback strategies and processes? If you're not doing this kind work, you are missing a huge opportunity to improve your performance, productivity, and results. Who has the authority and resources to get these processes in place and make folks in leadership positions below them accountable for integrating them into the day to day operation...that would be "leadership".

It really is simple...the barrier or impediment to progress is not the's their leadership. They are after all the educated and "degreed"...aren't they supposed to be the "smart ones" after all?

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks Dave - I am with you.

In organisations where front line workers are genuinely valued by senior management we don’t have the problem. In those settings front line employees feel ‘safe’ in confronting bad practice with anyone whether that is colleagues on the front line or even senior managers.

Anonymous said...

Whistle blowers can be people who don't necessarily go public, but rather, first try to influence the system when they perceive wrongdoing. When situations continue that create a difficult environment for others, people may be called to expose the situation.
I consider this a brave act, as many people are comfortable digging their heads in the sand, rather than taking a stand on behalf of their team and workplace. The whole point doesn't seem to me to be one of "making someone wrong" as much as it is putting words to problems that exist; problems others feel, talk about covertly, and do not express. Complying with misused power makes us accomplices to the act. Therefore, someone willing to try to negotiate the problem is, in my book, brave.

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks td - I'm with you 100%

Anonymous said...

Thank YOU, Trevor. I think this is an important topic. People can be scapegoated or blamed for upsetting the status quo, even when it is abusive. Reminds me of the saying, "No good deed goes unpunished." Still, to stay quiet and to let things happen - things that are categorically unfair - is covert/corroborated abuse, imo. It's also crazy making. The message is, "What's wrong with you? What are you talking about? There isn't an elephant in the living room! Go get your head checked or get some good therapy." People can really suffer from such reality-bending experiences. Again, Whistle Blowers - Clearly Brave.

Trevor Gay said...

Thank anonymous – we are on the same page – maybe I should write another posting on this subject.