NHS "whistleblowers" need a safe way to expose bad practice without jeopardising their careers, says union Unite, following the case of nurse Margaret Haywood, who was struck off for secretly filming neglect of elderly patients in a hospital for BBC's Panorama programme.
Unite's National Officer for Health, Karen Reay, said that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) "appeared to be somewhat heavy handed" in striking Ms Haywood off the register.
She said: "There is a balance to be had between privacy and confidentiality of patients, and the wider issue being highlighted.
"We can't have a culture where whistleblowers feel intimated into not legitimately reporting wrongdoing and bad practice in the NHS. We need a safe environment for whistleblowers who feel that they can complain without losing their livelihood.
Karen Reay added: "There appears to be a number of extenuating circumstances in the case of Margaret Haywood and the NMC could have imposed a lesser punishment than that of being struck off.
"The NMC exists as a regulatory body to protect patients and clients first and foremost, and not the alleged failings of members of the nursing profession in caring for the elderly."
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has launched a public petition in support of Ms Haywood.
Last Friday (17 April 2009), Chris Cox, Director of Legal Services at the RCN, said: "The RCN has been providing legal representation for Margaret Haywood from the outset and is very surprised at the severity of the punishment dealt out by the NMC panel.
"Our legal team are working with Margaret to explore the various legal options available to her in light of yesterday's judgment."
Related story: Struck-off nurse seeks review of NHS whistleblowers
Should whistleblowers be protected? Your comments (terms and conditions apply):
"Yes" – Nigel Spencer-Jones, Oxfordshire