Supporting whistleblowers in academic medicine:training and respecting the courage of professionals

Susanne McCabe, Retired,
December 16, 2003

Dear Editor,

Although the article highlights the reaction of practitioners in the medical profession to whistleblowers, I would point out that the same bullying, stigmatising, undermining of the person's credibility, by for example 'mentalising' or subtle or overt bullying and collusion - happens to users of health services who have experienced unethical actions and to those who have come across unethical research and attempted to get their concerns addressed.

Complaints systems in the past have too often failed those who have attempted to highlight wrong doing. A significant problem has been that the person has been positioned in the disadvantaged position of 'patient' or 'client' rather than 'whistleblower'. Recently there is a definite change in the way some Trusts and medical organisations are responding to concerns. My reservation lies in that so often though what action is taken depends on the ethical stance of those individuals in key positions.

Certain groups have suffered disproportionately when atempting to speak out, for example those with mental health problems, and women who raise concerns involving male practitioners.

In the 1980s I was involved with the initial stages of setting up an organisation called POPAN. (The Prevention of Professional Abuse Network). It dealt then with offences by therapists against clients but has now been extended to cover abuse by all health and social care professionals. It is now funded partly by the DoH and grants. In the early days the two therapists who set up the organisation were slated and accused of generating a problem which hardly existed.Some therapists in the NHS and in influential positions in private organisations denied there was a significant problem instead of investigating and working together with POPAN.Some of their members were condemned as scare mongers, amongs other offensive labels. Yet without especailly the courage of the two women therapists who set up the organisation with no funding at all,from a private flat in Hampstead, much of the abuse by professionals would still be covered up.

I salute all those who have the courage to speak out and who will not be silenced. The consequences can be very painful. Let us hope the winds of change will keep on blowing.

POPAN : - includes speech by Liam Donaldson to conference. (Currently offline).

I have no personal connection to POPAN now but have worked independantly on the same issues for many years).

Conflict of Interest

None declared