John Battle MP
CHARGE Nurse Graham Pink lost his job at Stopping Hill Hospital in Stockport for 'whistle-blowing'. He spoke out about declining standards of care which left him alone to cope with a 20-bed ward of elderly patients.
With inadequate nursing back-up, he was being asked to do the impossible; to provide patient care for too many at the same time. As a result, if one patient with senile dementia got out of bed and set off out of the ward door, the patient calling for assistance with a bed pan or commode had to be left.
He drew management's attention to his concerns, but nothing changed. He persisted and in desperation went public. 'All I tried to do was to improve patient care that was my sole aim and for that I was sacked' he told a health fringe meeting at the Labour Party Conference. At the same meeting, another health service
whistle-blower, scientist Dr Chris Chapman of Leeds, explained how he'd challenged fraudulent scientific project work. When a senior administrator eventually accepted that he'd not told the truth in response to demands for an independent enquiry, that same administrator remarked: 'Lying is not illegal'. The day before his 50th birthday (and his pension entitlement) Dr Chapman was made redundant.
Whistleblowing is not new. Nor is the official response to it. There are numerous people in industry and commerce, the Civil Service and public life who have spoken out on principle and lost their jobs as a result. Clive Pontin and John Stalker are, sadly, no longer exceptions. Recently City analyst Terry Smith was sacked for publishing Accounting For Growth, a study of dubious dealing in the world of commerce. Nor are whistleblowers
sgruntle tter m ua s, ng a personal grudge, out to get their own back. Marlene Winfield 's recent study of whistleblowing in British companies demonstrates that employees are often driven to blow the whistle by a hostile, aggressive response or by the total lack of response when the problem is raised.
Moreover, most whistleblowers are committed to the quality of their work. The usual official response, however, is to turn on the whistleblowers, sack them and blame them, making them responsible for their own fate. It's easier to destroy the whistleblower than to accept responsibility for changing the system. The number of whistleblowers who suffer not only losing their job, but their home, family and mental health, speaks for itself. With the introduction of gagging clauses on employment contracts produced by the new hospital trusts, the question of professional codes of conduct and integrity in public life are becoming increasingly imperative, even in the Health Service.
Perhaps it was to be expected that journalists would mock the Vatican's recently announced revision of the Catechism. Mr Chris Tarrant, in his newspaper column, complained that the Pope had 'added tax evasion to the lists of sins risking eternal damnation... equally unacceptable are fiddling expenses and drink-driving.' I'm tempted to agree with the Pope, but Tarrant proceeds to parody the Ten Commandments with his own inane list of pet dislikes, adding that '1 was never too much troubled by the
original commandments (except for a constant urge to covet my neighbour's ox)'.
Well there we have it. Perhaps 'morality is what I fancy', lying is alright unless made illegal, and professional Integrity what used to be called 'business ethics' are past their sell-by date. In the modern 'market' world competition, in other words, the tactics of survival are all that counts. These pragmatic tactics need neither abstract philosophical principles nor absolute values. Moral propositions are rendered at best a kind of pick-n'mix of contradictory assorted fragments.
When integrity in public life is regarded as a dangerously subversive absurdity, and political and business ethics are treated as contradictions in terms, then perhaps it's time to reopen theologian Enda McDonagh's seminal work Doing the Truth: The Quest for Moral Theology. In the meantime, whistleblowers deserve a hearing and support.