Friday, 23 January 2015

Whistleblowing and psychological safety

The Psychologist’ is the journal for the British Psychological Society (BPS).  Its strapline is ‘promoting excellence in psychology’.  In its September 2014 issue, in the Letters page, Dr Joanna Wilde, Chair of the BPS Working Party on Work and Health, wrote to say that her group were ‘researching whistleblowing and psychological safety in light of the recently reported catastrophic failures in organisations’.

What is already known, she wrote, is that although they haven’t researched the healthcare sector, research in other similar sectors is that whistleblowing results in very negative consequences with 75% of respondents reporting a move to dismiss them.  Nearly all reported experiencing being bullied after raising a concern.

That is so often a precursor to suspension for many of the people who contact .

There is a substantial body of research into group processes Dr Wilde wrote, so that whistleblowing can be conceptualised as a ‘form of psychological martyrdom or suicide.  For those who do not speak, it is experienced as a form of treachery, which has always been the last crime to have the death penalty removed’.

That is a brilliant description of the effect of whistleblowing for the whistleblower, who may well not even think of themselves as such but who feel they cannot continue to remain silent in the face of what is happening to their patients. 

Dr Wilde identifies predictors of low psychological safety including deficiencies in leadership behaviours and evidence of tolerance for bullying.

Again this strikes a chord and hopefully the research of the Working Party will provide further evidence to show that work needs to start at the other end of the process ie with the behaviours and accountability of managers, rather than threatening staff if they fail to raise concerns.

Thank you Dr Wilde.  We wish you every success. 

If you wish to contribute to Dr Wilde’s research, her email address is

She is also a member of the Founders’ Network,
‘a group of representatives from diverse professional and occupational organisations formed to create change within the NHS in order for staff to be able to better care for patients. We were founded in July 2014 on the initiative of Clare Gerarda, Lambeth GP, Medical Director NHS Practitioner Health Programme, and Rex Haigh Medical Psychotherapist and IGA (Institute of Group Analysis) Board Member.
We recognise that there are serious problems with working life in the NHS and are creating a destructive and sometimes toxic environment that threatens the success of the NHS. The absence of an empathic environment destroys the confidence, creativity and health of staff.  The NHS needs to create a fit-for-purpose environment in which it is possible to consistently plan, commission and deliver health care.  
   Taken from

Maybe, along with Patients First ( ) there is light at the end of the tunnel?

Yours hopefully