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Whistleblowers in the NHS who expose the truth

25 March 2015 Candidate Blogs

Great leadership and management skills within the NHS cannot exist devoid of compassion.

Just shy of 100 years ago you could have been shot for treason for telling the truth regardless of whether the truth was a justified ‘truth’ or not.

Everyone’s truth is different and so ‘truth’ as a yardstick is not necessarily an exact gauge on whether telling it is for good or for bad. Yet there have been recent instances where telling a perceived truth, perceived by the individual that is, or ‘whistleblowing’ has led to justice being done.

So when is it right to whistleblow and is the government’s crusade in favour of whistleblowing a knee jerk, politically populist, reaction to investigative journalism.

It is worth noting that NHS managers in general are highly trained individuals in public sector management. They are trained in management strategy where a lot of current practice evolves around strategic tools, theories, targets and measurement charts.

The NHS buzz phrases are; ‘patient first’, ‘waiting unacceptable’, ‘waste reduction’, ‘cost minimisation’ and ‘end to end process’.  Lean charts and critical success factors measure better value, value being determined by the customer (the patient is now the customer), and process should be consistent around a ‘core value stream’ that leaders must be able to quantify.

All this is fine but it will never change the culture of the NHS into an organisation with an overriding social mission that drives every NHS worker regardless of what they do or what level they work at. And the root cause of whistleblowing is about the lack of that social responsibility somewhere in the system.

NHS managers have dual roles in much greater quantities than managers in other sectors need to have.. They require skills in persuasion, negotiation and influence to achieve a balance in the ‘NHS the business’ role and ‘NHS the carer’ role.

The NHS business manager will use strategic management tools and techniques, and the lean six sigma strategies to plan, measure and manage what is a complex operation yet this cannot be done in isolation of the NHS ‘care manager’; two egg twins that share the womb but with different genes and different personas. Lean six sigma theories have their place and may have worked for Toyota and a plethora of other business types but the product of the NHS is distinctly different and a great deal less predictable than a car production line.

Great leadership and management skills within the NHS cannot exist devoid of compassion. Managers must have the emotional connection that stops them in their tracks if the ‘production line’ simply does not meet the social mission, no matter how challenging to change. They must not allow themselves to be anesthetised from the practices of others or from mandates coming down through a series of hierarchies. 

On balance no one can deny that whistleblowing has led to much progress.  Exactly what that progress is, in this context, is open for debate but the overriding social mission of the NHS must make it clear to leadership that doing their job is about taking social accountability as much as it is about crafting the core value stream, and that social accountability must be the main thread that runs through each and every one of their actions and decisions that they make. This is not rocket science or car aerodynamics.

Truth though has context too and the Doctor who was sacked by the mental health trust for raising concerns with her employer and the care worker who pushed the alarm about mistreatment both clearly spoke out against a deep belief that the system was not right.

But why did they have to whistleblow? - Because no-one was listening and the culture of fear stopped others from changing the system, or there was no system in place that allowed a voice to be heard and investigated. Of course trying to control whistleblowing is tantamount to ‘gagging’ but somehow the NHS must  have a robust process in place where front line staff in health and care roles are heard and taken seriously without fearing for their jobs and it’s only the managers who can do this.

At Morgan Hunt we strive to seek out candidates who can demonstrate leadership with a mission consistent with NHS values because we know that the future of the NHS is in the hands of the people that our clients employ. We’re all ‘customers’ of the NHS and if there is one thing that almost everyone agrees upon and that is we all want our NHS.

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