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Health staff told ‘don’t speak to press’ after regional daily exposé

Health bosses have warned potential whistleblowers not to speak to the local press after a regional daily revealed hundreds of patients’ lives were being put at risk by staff shortages.

The Sentinel, Stoke, reported last month that there had been more than 400 “alarming incidents” raised by district nurses to Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership NHS Trust in the past two years.

The failings, listed in a confidential dossier which was leaked to the paper, included cases of overworked staff bursting into tears at the end of their shifts, speeding to get to their next job and cutting their visits short.

The register, which was passed on by an anonymous source, also added patients were at risk of developing deadly pressure sores because the nurses were too busy to complete their rounds.

Stoke front

The report, described as a “damning dossier” by The Sentinel, provided a splash, pictured above, and spread for the newspaper last month.

However it has now emerged that the Trust’s latest internal newsletter, which has itself since been leaked to the Sentinel, contains a message to staff urging them not to give anonymous tips to the local press.

The message, written by the Trust’s new nursing director Tina Cookson, states: “Staff are concerned about staffing levels but following a leak of serious incident reports to the local press I would urge all staff to continue to report incidents and encourage them to raise concerns using our existing internal channels.

“We are aware of the continued difficulties and determined to increase the pace of improvement, develop leadership at all levels and improve decision-making.  I look forward to meeting many of you in the next few months but please get in touch directly if you wish.”

Sentinel health reporter Dave Blackhurst said: “Documents were leaked to me from within our area’s community health trust. They contained a register of complaints by district nurses of how they could not do their job safety because of staffing shortages.

“The full list ran to hundreds of incidents logged over two years about care falling short. It contained some pretty hair-raising stuff such as frail, elderly people being discharged from hospital to find no-one coming into their homes to give medication, change dressings or ease their pain in the cases of those dying from terminal illnesses.

“We covered it with a poster front and a two-page spread. It has had huge significance locally as it comes at a time when our health bodies are trying to get public support for transferring services out of our main hospital, the Royal Stoke, into the community.

“It cuts across their rhetoric that people will be safer in their homes than on a hospital ward. The leak came from a whistle blower who was frustrated that nothing was being done by the Trust’s management over the growing concerns.”

Tina Cookson, director of nursing and quality at Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership NHS Trust, said: “As an organisation the partnership Trust encourages all staff to raise concerns when they feel appropriate.

“Staff are urged to raise concerns through existing mechanisms which are in place across the Trust.

“These include speaking to a line manager, professional leadership colleagues, union representatives, our ambassador for cultural change or through the designated raising concerns helpline established for staff.

“These internal mechanisms are encouraged to ensure that action can be made in a timely manner.”

13 comments

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  • May 1, 2015 at 9:05 am
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    Well done the Sentinel. So many papers these days gratefully lap-up the nonsense churned out by hugely well-paid PROs for the NHS and local hospitals. There is a crisis everywhere, obscured by the efforts of health service managers who are failing miserably but taking home fortunes. And yet you can open many local papers and find page leads with submitted pics telling readers how brilliant everything is.

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  • May 1, 2015 at 9:39 am
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    The fact is, though, that some newspapers are using the NHS crisis to try and force privatisation so that health care can be run on a profits-first basis as in the United States.
    No doubt the monopoly groups to which these papers belong will then invest in medical provision to recoup finances lost through rapidly dwindling circulations.

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  • May 1, 2015 at 9:57 am
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    Congrats to the Sentinel team.
    Wonder how many readers knew local health bosses included an “ambassador for cultural change” as revealed in the bleating Ms Cookson’s risible not-me-guv response?

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  • May 1, 2015 at 10:04 am
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    Well done Sentinel. Gagging of the entire public sector is in force in our patch, inducing tremor of fear whenever you walk into the same room as a teacher, nurse or council worker.

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  • May 1, 2015 at 10:28 am
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    You would like to think that the health services around Stoke had learned some lessons by now. There’s a stench about the entire NHS in Staffordshire.

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  • May 1, 2015 at 10:41 am
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    When I was a health reporter on an evening paper lots of people who gave me tip-offs begged me not to name them for fear of reprisals. Press officers always insisted no-one was gagged!
    On the other hand if the Daily Slopshire’s star reporter was quoted on radio as saying his paper was absolute crap he might expect some comeback.
    Hospitals are rather more important than newspapers in the grand scheme of things though.

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  • May 1, 2015 at 10:49 am
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    This is the NHS which the Tories say is “safe in our hands.” Yet billions of pounds of NHS cash is being handed to the private health care sector, where wages are slashed, working conditions worsened, and treatment of patients deteriorates. We should remember that on May 7. And congratulations to The Sentinel. Also to the Daily Mirror for exposing the appalling state of cleaning when G4S took it over in at a hospital in Hertfordshire. Peter Lazenby.

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  • May 1, 2015 at 11:00 am
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    This confidential dossier should have not been confidential and made public then there would be no need for whistle blowers. Great job done by The Sentinel and the whistle blowers, perhaps it will bring about some improvements.

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  • May 1, 2015 at 12:49 pm
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    I wholeheartedly agree with Vethack: “Hospitals are rather more important than newspapers in the grand scheme of things though.”
    No one needs a free press asking important questions of those with the power on behalf of those without a voice, do they?

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  • May 1, 2015 at 4:56 pm
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    Magnificent work by The Sentinel which shows what can still be achieved by good journalists on regional newspapers. Incidentally, does whistleblower material qualify as user generated content?

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  • May 1, 2015 at 5:12 pm
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    Any paper in the ‘exposure’ business deserves our respect, but the press must not allow itself to drawn into an anti-NHS crusade which seeks to privatise the service to the patients’ detriment.
    Having lived abroad for many years, I can tell you that private medicine is callous, profit-driven and utterly unconcerned about the welfare of patients.
    Someone I knew suffered a life-changing illness and was flown to the USA for treatment. After six months in intensive care, he was told his million-dollar cover had run out. ‘What do you intend to do about it?’ he was asked. He was still wired-up and helpless at the time.
    Gives you a nice, warm, cosy feeling, doesn’t it?
    Save our NHS: it is the only good thing politicians have provided for this country over the last century.

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  • May 3, 2015 at 5:19 pm
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    Health Trusts, completely unaccountable despite the huge sums of taxpayers’ cash they receive

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