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Good morning. If you stand in the street and blow a whistle passers by will hear an unpleasant, piercing sound -then turn round and look at you. Suddenly you will feel rather isolated and exposed, especially if they ignore you when you have something important to say. So, it’s a very apt image for those who first drew attention to something going wrong at Gosport War Memorial Hospital. As parliament were told on Wednesday, “The first concerns were raised by brave nurse whistleblowers” Yes, it does take real bravery.
Bishop James Jones, who led the panel of enquiry said “What has to be recognised by those who head up our public institutions is how difficult it is for ordinary people to challenge the closing of ranks of those who hold power…it is a lonely place seeking answers that others wish you were not asking”. And this is an issue that goes much wider than one particular hospital. In recent months questions have been asked about some of our major accounting firms, as to why they did not raise questions over the audits of companies which went bust a few weeks later. There can be questions about the role of non-executive directors and their reluctance to probe touchy issues with the management for fear of sinking the ship, or at least the share price. Then of course there are the terrible failures properly to investigate allegations of child abuse in the churches and elsewhere.
Power is indeed a factor. The power of the institution to make the questioner pay a price for their awkwardness-not to get the promotion they might have expected for example-or to be talked about amongst colleagues as a trouble maker. But more than power is involved, for all institutions generate a sense of loyalty, and that loyalty can make matters even more difficult, for it is this that can lead to a closing of ranks at every level, making the questioner feel even more isolated. Then whistle blowers themselves will share that sense of loyalty. They do not want to harm the hospital or church or company. But a whistleblower also knows that true loyalty does mean raising genuine concerns. This is the deeper, higher loyalty- which puts aside short term embarrassment in a concern about long term reputational damage and which is driven by conscience. For a Christian that conscience is rooted in God. To echo famous words of Thomas More to King Henry VIII when he refused to go along with what the king wanted; “The hospital’s good servant, the company’s good servant, the church’s good servant, but God’s first.”