Whistle-blowing and workplace culture in older peoples' care: qualitative insights from the healthcare and social care workforce

Sociol Health Illn. 2014 Sep;36(7):986-1002. doi: 10.1111/1467-9566.12137. Epub 2014 Apr 10.


Inquiries in the UK into mistreatment of older people by healthcare employees over the last 30 years have focused on introducing or supporting employee whistle-blowing. Although whistle-blowers have made an important contribution to patient safety it remains a controversial activity. The fate of whistle-blowers is bleak, often resulting in personal and professional sacrifices. Here we draw on the views of healthcare and social care employees working with older people to explore perceptions of whistle-blowing as well as alternative strategies that may be used to raise concerns about the mistreatment of patients by co-workers. Whistle-blowing was perceived as a negative term. Managers said they promoted open cultures underpinned by regular team meetings and an open-door ethos. Others described workplace norms that were somewhat at odds with these open culture ideals. Whistle-blowing was considered risky, and this led to staff creating informal channels through which to raise concerns. Those who witnessed wrongdoing were aware that support was available from external agencies but preferred local solutions and drew upon personal ethics rather than regulatory edicts to shape their responses. We argue that the importance of workplace relationships and informal channels for raising concerns should be better understood to help prevent the mistreatment of vulnerable groups.

Keywords: older people; whistle-blowing; workforce; workplace culture.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Elder Abuse*
  • Health Personnel / psychology
  • Hospitals, Teaching*
  • Humans
  • Organizational Culture*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Risk
  • Social Work
  • State Medicine
  • United Kingdom
  • Whistleblowing / psychology*
  • Workplace / psychology*