Fall out from the Jimmy Saville scandal of sex abuse at the BBC continues to dominate the news. What has this got to do with the medical world? Well some of the abuse was supposed to have happened at hospitals and the failure to whistleblow- to report abuse or failures of care,  has led to repeated scandals in the NHS just as in the BBC. Anger is being expressed because ‘people in the BBC must have known’ about Jimmy Saville’s behaviour at the time but chose not to say anything.

Similarly there have been many scandals of poor substandard care where staff should have spoken out sooner to protect patients. The Bristol Heart Surgery scandal occurred in the 1990s. The children’s cardiac surgery team had a very poor success rate. It was stated at the inquiry that up to 170 babies might have not died and hundreds more avoided brain damage if they had been operated elsewhere. High mortality rates and complaints eventually triggered investigation into Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust. It uncovered appalling standards, a culture of ‘target chasing’ and a likely excess of about 400 deaths. Why did no one working for it speak up sooner?  On October 26th this year 6 care workers were jailed for abusing patients at Winterbourne View Care home. A nurse had reported abuse to senior management who ignored it. She then reported it to the Care Quality Commission which regulates such homes but they failed to act. Panorama then introduced a secret camera and filmed vulnerable disabled adults being hit, taunted and humiliated

Whistleblowing is an obligation. A doctor can be struck off the GMC registrar if he fails to report concerns. Patient care and safety should be a doctor’s primary concern.If you don’t report such matters you may not be an abuser but you can be viewed as a collaborator. It is always hard to speak out against your colleagues and employers but it is essential.

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