Whistle-blowers at the NHS should be encouraged to speak out without fear if patient care is suffering, a nursing leader says today.

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Writing in the EDP, Karen Webb, the director of the Royal College of Nursing for the Eastern region, said it was vital that all nursing staff felt able to voice their concerns about anything that affects the safety of patients.

She warned that where thousands of nursing jobs were being lost, with many staff too scared to speak out, there was a danger that corners could be cut, and patients could suffer.

But she added that all registered nurses were required by their regulator, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, to “act without delay” if they believe patients were being put at risk.

She said: “Nurses need to report concerns to their managers in the first instance, they need to document concerns in patients’ notes, and to report incidents or near misses to their employer.

“One of the lessons of the Mid Staffs scandal is the need for staff to speak out when patient care is being compromised.

“The message from the RCN is that nurses have a duty to speak up for their patients and will be supported by us to do so.”

Her comments have been backed by Care Minister and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who said: “I completely agree with her. It’s incredibly important that staff should be encouraged to speak up, if they have concerns.

“The staff surveys ask whether staff feel able to raise concerns. It’s possible to monitor whether there are any organisations where that may be difficult.

“I’m very pleased we are legislating to introduce in statute a duty of candour that requires hospitals to be open with relatives if mistakes have been made that might have resulted in deaths or serious injuries.

“In every way we are making it absolutely clear that there should be a culture of openness, and staff should be encouraged to speak out.”

Concern over staff being allowed to speak out emerged after the Mid Staffs scandal, in which hundreds of patients are believed to have died because of poor care. It later emerged that millions had been spent on compromise agreements with staff leaving the NHS, most of which were believed to contain clauses to stop whistle-blowers from speaking out.

Under Section 21 of Agenda for Change NHS staff have both a right and a duty to raise concerns in the public interest and RCN members can also report concerns to their local rep. Nurses can also call the RCN Speaking Out hotline on 0345 772 6300.

cross ref to her letter on page 32 of EDP

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