'Whistle-blowing' nurses criticised

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THIRTY-ONE student nurses have been threatened with disciplinary action after complaining about what they consider to be poor standards of care of elderly patients at two nursing homes, writes Judy Jones.

The third-year students at St Bartholomew's College of Nursing and Midwifery told senior academic staff that they felt they had seen 29 examples of defective care at the college-run homes, Brownswood and Louis Freedman in east London.

Their complaints alleged neglect of patients though inadequate staffing, poor hygiene, breaches of patient privacy, and poor training. The students complained collectively on 23 July.

After a meeting with Sonia Crow, the vice-principal responsible for academic standards, on

6 August, the group wrote to her expressing disappointment that the college had not sought more details about the instances cited.

Within a week, the college agreed to withdraw the students from one home and to 'monitor the learning environment' at the second for three months.

However, on 14 August, the students were warned they would be disciplined unless they dissociated themselves from the opinions expressed in the group's second letter, and made written retractions.

In a circular, Ms Crow accused them of 'extreme insolence' and added: 'The college values the fact that you have brought your concerns to us. It is the inappropriate manner of some of the communications which is not acceptable.'

The threat, revealed in today's Nursing Standard, was condemned by the Royal College of Nursing's Association of Nursing Students.

Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, has told NHS managers to provide 'proper channels' to investigate complaints, but many staff still feel their jobs are at risk if they speak out.