Health professionals should be empowered to speak out about work stresses to protect patient welfare

Health Science
Healthcare Conference at Waterford Institute of Technology. Pictured speaking is Dr Tom Clonan, Army Officer (retired)

Healthcare Conference at Waterford Institute of Technology. Pictured speaking is Dr Tom Clonan, Army Officer (retired)

International Healthcare Conference at Waterford Institute of Technology

International Healthcare Conference at Waterford Institute of Technology

Thursday, 4 December 2014: It is essential that health workers retain the professional and ethical integrity to speak out in the public interest when patient welfare is compromised in the name of austerity, an international healthcare conference at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) heard today.

Since 2008, the ‘Austerity’ policies have significantly impacted on Irish society and public services, particularly the health services. There has been a significant reduction in the number of professionals employed in the health service, those left have seen a reduction of 25% in their pay and their workload has increased in a context of constant calls for improved quality and efficiency.

Speaking at the conference, Captain Tom Clonan, Media Lecturer at DIT and Irish Times and Sky News contributor, said, “After years of so called austerity in which ordinary Irish citizens have been bounced into bailing out major international bank debt, our public services, especially health - one of our most precious public services, have been hollowed out.

“Ireland's public discourse is unique in the manner in which it demonises health professionals such as nurses and doctors. The caring professions are subject to an extraordinary level of hostile scrutiny by a seamless political and media establishment that seek to divide workers on a perverse and fallacious public/private divide. This agenda is pursued in order to promote the toxic dynamic of austerity and patients and health professionals alike are the victims of the erosion of our health services.”

Media investigations and the actions of some clinicians’ ‘whistleblowing’ has highlighted a series of high profile patient safety and quality of care issues indicative of a system under strain and a workforce under stress.

Mr Clonan concludes that his experience as a whistleblower and our unique culture of ‘Whistleblower Reprisal’ highlights the professional, personal and ethical challenges of speaking truth to power and that “health workers must be equipped to speak out in the name of patient welfare and this is especially relevant for health professionals struggling to cope in an a dysfunctional health system characterised by an adversarial and autocratic management style.”

Prof John Wells, Head of the School of Health Sciences at WIT said that these issues are not confined to Ireland but “exist today in most health services in the western world. Open Disclosure is now policy in many health services and yet research indicates that staff following open disclosure policies still experience considerable pressure and stress when voicing their concerns.”

The international conference included an impressive list of speakers from around the world including the US, the UK, South Africa and Ireland, all of whom considered the lessons to be learned from system failures and pressures placed on individuals who voice concerns. The concept of building resilience at a personal and service level was explored as a realistic approach to the management of the contemporary crisis in health care.

Related Courses

Bachelor of Science in  Applied Health Care
Bachelor of Science (Honours) in  Public Health & Health Promotion

Featured News