Research on Whistleblowing in Irish Hospitals Receives Literati Award

Posted on: 28 June 2011

Research conducted in eight acute hospitals in the Health Services Executive (HSE) regions in Ireland has shown that poor handling of issues raised by whistleblowers is perpetuating a culture of silence in Irish hospitals.  The study, by Dr Eilish McAuliffe and Linda Moore of Trinity College’s Centre for Health Policy and Management, was recently published in Clinical Governance: An International Journal and chosen as a Highly Commended Award Winner at the Literati Network Awards for Excellence 2011.   The full paper, entitled ‘Is inadequate response to whistle blowing perpetuating a culture of silence in hospitals’, is available online.

The study selected two hospitals from each of the four HSE regions and nursing staff on three wards within each hospital in order to make up the sample.  Findings revealed that 88% of nursing staff respondents had observed an incident of poor care in the past six months.  The findings indicated that 70% of those that observed an incident of poor care reported it, however only one in four nurses who reported poor care were satisfied with the way the organisation handled their concerns.   The research provides evidence that reporting of poor care is hampered by a fear of retribution and lack of faith in the organisation’s ability to take corrective action.

The study highlights that current organisational practice in the handling of reported incidents requires urgent revision.   The authors argue that a hospital and national approach to tracking and trending poor care is needed.  They also recommend a systematic approach to corrective actions to ensure there is learning in the health system from these incidents.  By defining what constitutes poor care and introducing a systematic approach to reporting it, it may be possible to encourage staff to report it.  Without a framework, there is a real danger of perpetuating a culture of silence and an acceptance of poor quality care.