Editorial Comment: Leave the messenger be

When the Public Interest Disclosure Act was passed in 1998 it was meant to offer protection to staff who blew the whistle on abuse and poor standards of care. So it’s disappointing nine years on to hear that six residential care staff in Wakefield were summarily dismissed when they raised serious concerns about the care of young people in children’s homes.

Of course it can muddy the waters when – as in this case – staff take their concerns to the media. Managers are usually averse to having their dirty laundry washed in public, but sometimes when internal processes fail going to the papers is the only way to get something done.

The government’s Directgov website breezily assures staff “you’re protected under the law if you blow the whistle on suspected malpractice at work.” Meanwhile the code of conduct for social care staff urges them to “use established processes and procedures to challenge and report dangerous, abusive, discriminatory or exploitative behaviour and practice”.

But the experience of the Wakefield six shows that raising concerns can still land you in hot water even when it’s your duty to do it. The staff concerned are reported to have received compensation totalling some £1m. The size of that settlement reflects the fact that whistleblowing remains a vital tool for preventing major scandals and staff must not be deterred from doing it.

If only those running the service would focus on addressing the problem rather than shooting the messenger we might move nearer to creating a culture where more staff feel able to speak up about bad practice.

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MPs and peers: Care staff must blow whistle on abuse

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Janet Snell




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