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Health care professionals kept quiet about Jimmy Savile: why didn’t they speak out?

Roger Kline, 12 October 2012

Nursing Times reports (11 October, 2012) that “nurses advised young patients to 'pretend to be asleep' when Sir Jimmy Savile was visiting their hospital, it has been claimed."

These allegations, coming as they do after the Serious Case Review on Winterbourne View and ahead of the Public Inquiry Report on Mid Staffordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, beg a fundamental question: Why did those who apparently knew so much say so little to absolutely no effect?

Savile is not here to defend himself, but it now seems beyond doubt that his behaviour was known not only to plenty of media professionals but also to health care professionals.

Rebecca Owen was a patient at St James Infirmary, and Nursing Times reports her claims that “there was some sort of ironic chatter between the nurses about who would be the lucky one to go off to his room…….and then, as one of the nurses was leaving or passing by my bed, she leant over and said the best thing you can do is stay in bed until he’s gone and pretend to be asleep.”

As in the Winterbourne and Mid Staffs cases, why did more health care professionals not comply with their Code of Practice and draw their concerns to the attention of appropriate persons? Why did they not act as their ethical training and human decency would dictate? If they did voice their concerns, what was done about it? If nothing was done, why were those concerns not taken further - anonymously if necessary – by their managers or regulatory bodies?

If they didn’t raise those concerns - and it sounds as if they should have been raised collectively as well as individually - then they were in breach of their Code and their duty of care to the children in their care. And so were their managers if they didn't take the concerns seriously, including those at the highest level who had not created an environment in which such concerns would automatically be reported without fear of detriment.

Raising such concerns cannot be the preserve of the odd brave whisteblower. It is the responsibility of every registered nurse, therapist, social worker, doctor and manager. It is time this message was embedded once and for all into the training and practice of every health care worker, and not just those with the courage to raise concerns.

The Francis report on Mid Staffordshire will rightly talk about the climate of fear and bullying that is so widespread in health and social care. It will rightly want to hold senior management to account. I know well, having represented several whistleblowers, and written extensively about it, the price that can be paid for speaking out, however professionally it is done.

But we all have a responsibility to stand up for those who cannot speak up for themselves. Professional bodies, employers and trades unions should be working to give everyone the courage to do so, individually and collectively.

We still have a long way to go, I'm afraid. Let's hope that when the Francis Report is published in January makes it just that bit easier to do so. 


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