From Edward Snowdon to Julian Assange, whistleblowers have been villified throughout the Western World. A whistleblower is a person who exposes misconduct, failing, alleged dishonest or illegal activity occurring in an organisation. Some may think whistleblowers would be accepted and actively encouraged, but the recent NHS whistleblowing scandal only further highlights the poor treatment whistleblowers are faced with in response to, in most cases, the honest raising of fears or doubts.
What is particularly worrying is that these cases seem to have occurred, and continue to occur, in one of the most treasured parts of the British social system: the NHS. Barely a month goes by without further allegations of NHS cover-ups in what is becoming an increasingly cutthroat and target-based institution.
The Stafford Hospital Scandal encapsulates these failings; press reports note that between 400 and 1200 people may have died from the awful practices occurring at the Hospital, including patients being left in soiled sheets. One of the most disturbing things about this scandal, however, is the fact that these practices were able to persist for more than three years, and those speaking out against the Mid-Staffs Hospital trust that ran the hospital were subjected to denials and abuse.
So why are whistleblowers subject to such abuse? Edward Snowden, and his leaking of thousands of NSA files, is a more understandable case, when considering the intelligence community. There is at least an argument that leaking security documents to the press is a danger to national security, and that may help to explain the disdain displayed for Snowden by the US government.
The Stafford Hospital Scandal encapsulates these failings; press reports note that between 400 and 1200 people may have died from the awful practices occurring at the Hospital, including patients being left in soiled sheets
Other cases are less dubious. Kathryn Bolkovac exposed serious issues within the UN peace mission in Bosnia, including allegations as serious as corruption and sex trafficking which would have actively tied in members of the UN team. She was dismissed from her position and labelled a disgruntled ex-employee, and the allegations were dismissed. This story at least had a happy ending for Bolkovac, who sued DynCorp, the security contractors for which she was working for to provide the UN peace mission. The British tribunal found unanimously in Bolkovac’s favour.
There are several explanations for why organisations may react like this; fear of bad publicity, expensive litigation and loss of business can make an organisation hostile and defensive, usually at the expense of the whistleblower’s personal or professional reputation. Michael Hoffman, director of the Center for Business Ethics at Bentley College argues that “shared accountability and responsibility as part of an organization are not valued today.” It paints a picture of organisations as major as the NHS and NSA failing to act with a collective ethical code.
Fear of bad publicity, expensive litigation and loss of business can make an organisation hostile and defensive, usually at the expense of the whistleblower’s personal or professional reputation
Surely, then, there needs to be a change in the way organisations react to whistleblowers, and in particular how they deal with their concerns? In recent years there has been a rise in the use ethical programs and the compliance systems they entail. The Francis Review, published on the 11th February this year, outlines the changes that need to be made to whistleblowing processes to prevent serious failure again, which revolve around fostering an atmosphere where workers can raise concerns freely and are given the support, and legal protection to do so. So, in a world where, sadly, the collective seem to naturally reject whisteblowers claims, reports such as these are necessary to remove the taboo on whistleblowing
Image from Getty via telegraph.co.uk