In Brief

NHS 'culture of fear' revealed as Hunt announces reform

Health secretary seeks to protect whistleblowers who sound the alarm about health service failings

NHS staff who sound the alarm about poor care or other failings are to get protection from sweeping reforms announced today by health secretary Jeremy Hunt. Sky News says the plans will "bring an end to the cover-up culture in hospitals".

Hunt's announcement is timed to coincide with the publication of a report he commissioned by Sir Robert Francis, the barrister who led the inquiry into the Mid-Staffordshire hospitals scandal.

Sir Robert's findings are that poor care at failing hospitals went undetected for many years because staff were afraid to speak out. His inquiry was delayed because of the sheer volume of responses he received from NHS staff – 18,000 in total.

Many of the respondents were doctors or nurses who had been sacked after raising concerns, Sky news reports. Consultant paediatrician Dr David Drew told the broadcaster he was sacked after speaking out over the death of a toddler.

He said the NHS had not done enough to help whistleblowers: "They have not lifted a finger to help us. Patients are suffering, patients are dying. The staff who would like to speak up for them are being hamstrung by the people in charge of these hospitals."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme this morning, Sir Robert made it clear would-be whistleblowers still fear reprisals. He said 30 per cent of respondents had told him the felt unsafe after speaking out.

He said there was a "climate of fear" which had a repressive effect, even if it was created by the experiences of "what may be a very few people". He added that bullying was "undoubtedly a problem" in the NHS.

Saying he hoped his report would bring about change in the service, he added: " I've spoken to people who have not only lost their jobs, their livelihood, they've not been able to find other jobs to do.

"And I'm afraid in some cases have felt suicidal and become ill as a result."

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