The truth be told! Why are we so suspicious of whistle-blowers?

It is tempting to think that whistle-blowers are smug, moralising, and self-satisfied.  After all, no-one likes the person who ‘dobs’ on others.  So, when is it right to speak up when you see serious wrongdoing?  This is a deeply personal decision in my experience. Primary Health Networks, and other healthcare commissioners, are engaged with contracts amounting to many millions of dollars, so corruption and undue influences are a real threat and we should acknowledge this.

While working in hospitals, GP Divisions, Medicare Locals, and PHNs over my 30 year career in health I have been asked to turn a blind eye to my share of dubious things, and sometimes I have reluctantly complied fearing for my employment. So I know first-hand about the pressure that can be applied to well intentioned individuals. Whistle-blowers generally don’t do at all well in Australia. I have lost my job multiple times for calling out cover-ups and intrigues, and I can confirm that this has been at a huge personal cost each time. So, it is indeed a very serious decision when considering speaking up about wrongdoing.  The risks are real for you, your job, your career and those who rely on you such as family members. 

The Boards and executive teams of commissioning organisations need to be absolutely clear on where they stand on this. Do they want staff to come forward when they see serious wrongdoing and will they protect and support staff when they do so? It is at times like this that Board Directors and Executives reveal their true character!

If we want our commissioning organisations to actually deliver what the public requires of them we need to make it safer for people to call out serious wrongdoing.  We should not expect people to have to commit career suicide to reports things such as harassment or financial malfeasance. People who find the courage to speak up are our heroes and they should not be labelled as smug troublemakers. 

Our institutions, including commissioning organisations, need to be led by people who will guarantee water-tight protections for whistle-blowers, backed up by the right Government legislation and administrative arrangements.

Thought starters for commissioners

  • What would you do if you suspected corrupt behaviour at your Primary Health Network?
  • How confident are you that staff will be protected when they act in good faith?
  • Does your PHN make it clear that it has zero tolerance of corrupt and abusive behaviour?
  • Do staff know the PHN’s policy and processes on how suspected corruption should be handled?
Are whistle-blowers in your PHN going to be targeted?