Nurses' Experiences of Whistle Blowing in the Health Sector

Tuesday, 14 July 2009: 2:05 PM

Kath Peters, PhD, RN, BN, (Hons)1
Debra Jackson, RN, PhD1
Lesley M. Wilkes, PhD, MHPEd, GradDip, ED, CM, RN1
Michel Edenborough, PhD, BA, BSSc(Hons)2
Elizabeth Halcomb, RN, BN, (Hons), PhD1
Lauretta Luck, RN, BA, MA, PhD1
1School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Western Sydney, Penrith South DC NSW, Australia
2Family and Community Health Group, University of Western Sydney, Penrith South DC NSW, Australia

Learning Objective 1: The learner will be able to understand the experiences of nurses who ‘blow the whistle’, before and after the event.

Learning Objective 2: The learner will be able to understand the implications of whistleblowing for nurses and the impact this may have on various aspects of their lives.

Purpose: Recent attention has highlighted health professional misconduct in high-profile cases in Australia. These events are frequently exposed by health care professionals who speak out when internal avenues fail them. This act is often referred to as "blowing the whistle". Whistleblowing has been defined as "a nurse who identifies an incompetent, unethical or illegal situation in the workplace and reports it to someone who may have the power to stop the wrong" (Ahern & McDonald 2002, p305). Whilst traditionally, concerns related to care delivery have not been publicly disclosed, whistleblowing is occurring more frequently. While the spectre of health care misconduct has garnered increasing media attention in the wake of recent publicised events, the issue of whistleblowing has not received the same scholarly focus. Research to date has examined the area in terms of ethics, patient advocacy, beliefs and attitudes about whistleblowing, and the failure of policies and procedures to adequately address the problem. However, less attention has been paid to the whistleblowers themselves. This project aimed to investigate the effect of whistleblowing in the health sector from the perspective of whistleblowers to gain data that can potentially improve current practice by organizations and policy makers, as well as provide strategies that facilitate patient safety and promote ethical conduct by health care professionals and organisations.
Methods: Participants were recruited via media release and data were collected during face to face and telephone interviews between 1-2 hours in duration. Data collection continued until redundancy of data occurred. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim prior to undergoing narrative analysis.
Results: This paper will present findings from this study, highlight implications for whistleblowers and provide recommendations to enhance ethical practice within the health sector.
Conclusion: Nurses often experience negative repercussions as a result of whistleblowing and could benefit from further organizational support to enhance ethical practice.