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Clinical governance breakdown: Australian cases of wilful blindness and whistleblowing

journal contribution
posted on 2019-01-01, 00:00 authored by S Cleary, Maxine DukeMaxine Duke
BACKGROUND: After their attempts to have patient safety concerns addressed internally were ignored by wilfully blind managers, nurses from Bundaberg Base Hospital and Macarthur Health Service felt compelled to 'blow the whistle'. Wilful blindness is the human desire to prefer ignorance to knowledge; the responsibility to be informed is shirked. OBJECTIVE: To provide an account of instances of wilful blindness identified in two high-profile cases of nurse whistleblowing in Australia. RESEARCH DESIGN: Critical case study methodology using Fay's Critical Social Theory to examine, analyse and interpret existing data generated by the Commissions of Inquiry held into Bundaberg Base Hospital and Macarthur Health Service patient safety breaches. All data was publicly available and assessed according to the requirements of unobtrusive research methods and secondary data analysis. Ethical considerations: Data collection for the case studies relied entirely on publicly available documentary sources recounting and detailing past events. FINDINGS: Data from both cases reveal managers demonstrating wilful blindness towards patient safety concerns. Concerns were unaddressed; nurses, instead, experienced retaliatory responses leading to a 'social crisis' in the organisation and to whistleblowing. CONCLUSION: Managers tasked with clinical governance must be aware of mechanisms with the potential to blind them. The human tendency to favour positive news and avoid conflict is powerful. Understanding wilful blindness can assist managers' awareness of the competing emotions occurring in response to ethical challenges, such as whistleblowing.



Nursing ethics






1039 - 1049


Sage Publications


London, Eng.





Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal; C Journal article

Copyright notice

2017, The Author(s)