England’s National Health Service tried to destroy the careers of healthcare providers who raised concerns about patients’ safety

England’s National Health Service systematically attacks doctors and nurses who raise concerns about the safety of patients under their care, according to an explosive new report by the Telegraph.

The news outlet has been running a series of articles explaining how the NHS goes after medical professionals who dare to speak out about flaws in the system, destroying their careers, and in some cases, their lives.

They spoke to dozens of doctors and nurses who claim to have been targets of these campaigns after presenting their concerns about hundreds of cases of substandard care and patient deaths. Sadly, the NHS appears to be more interested in investigating the doctors than the problems with the system.

The whistleblowers’ accounts of their treatment after raising concerns are all so similar that it is apparent that the NHS uses a playbook of tactics aimed at intimidating and silencing them. They describe a culture of cover-ups, with management and colleagues alike bullying and harassing medical professionals.

According to the Telegraph, the NHS is more likely to investigate the conduct of a whistleblower than they are to look into the issue they raise. In fact, 41 of the 52 medics that they interviewed reported that their own conduct was investigated and that they were targeted by counter-allegations after they raised their concerns.

Just 28 of the 52 reported that their employer conducted an investigation into the patient’s safety, and in cases where they did so, 24 out of 28 said that they had major reservations about the manner in which these investigations were carried out.

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One whistleblower, Hampshire Hospitals and NHS Foundation Trust OB/GYN Martyn Pitman, said that he was placed under a Maintaining High Professional Standards investigation after raising concerns about the maternity care at his facility. His representative with the British Medical Association told him that it could take up to 18 months for the investigation to be complete, even though they are supposed to be finished within six weeks.

He said the representative told him the trusts “deliberately extend it because they want to break you. They want to absolutely destroy you.”

Maxillofacial surgeon Serryth Colbert told a similar story, noting: “Doctors break. Many drink to excess to drown their sorrows, most feel sorry for themselves and eventually become depressed, or suffer PTSD and become clinically depressed from the ostracisation and overnight loss of identity when you are kicked out from the job you love.”

Intimidation, harassment and disciplinary action

For many doctors, harassment, intimidation and bullying came after blowing the whistle, with 16 medics reporting being inappropriately referred to psychiatric or psychological services, while others were referred to the tax authorities, social services and even the police in what they believe are attempts to weaken their resolve to continue fighting against injustices in the system.

Another way the NHS intimidates whistleblowers is by referring them to the General Medical Council (GMC). Numerous doctors report being told that they would be referred to the GMC if they did not withdraw their complaint, although this appears to be largely an empty threat; on the few occasions that referrals led to a “fitness to practice” hearing, regulators concluded that there was no case.

However, there are many other tactics that clinics and hospitals use to silence doctors or pressure them to quit if they blow the whistle. Nearly half of the medics the Telegraph spoke to faced disciplinary action; 16 of them were dismissed and 19 were suspended. Others were demoted, hit with adverse changes to the terms and conditions of their employment, given extra workloads or issued a pay cut.

Sadly, patient safety is only going to get worse in the NHS if medical professionals are too scared to speak out about the problems their patients face.

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